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Britain shows its hand on casinos

International casino operators, including Las Vegas-based Caesar’s Entertainment, have earmarked about $9 billion to invest in Britain if a controversial gambling bill is approved by Parliament.
/ Source: Reuters

Giant Las Vegas-style casinos with million-pound prizes could roll out across Britain as the government shakes up 40-year-old gambling laws under proposals published Tuesday.

International casino operators have earmarked around 5 billion pounds (about $9 billion) to invest in Britain if the Gambling Bill is approved by parliament.

Britain’s biggest gambling and betting firm, Stanley Leisure, and Las Vegas-based Caesar’s Entertainment have both outlined gambling resorts that have more in common with American supercasinos than Britain’s traditional clubs.

Rules capping the size of casinos and restricting them to city centers will be loosened, and outdated membership laws will be scrapped, said a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

For the first time, British firms will also be able to offer casino-style gambling over the Internet.

Critics said the proposals were unduly skewed in favor of the biggest operators.

Supercasinos’ in the offing?
“The Government’s proposals open the door to a large number of supercasinos being built in our town and city centers while existing smaller UK operators are prevented from competing on an equal basis,” said Shadow Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.

Shares in Stanley Leisure, William Hill and Hilton Group, which runs 1,900 Ladbrokes betting shops, rose as the bill was published and then fell on signs in the text that the government would clamp down on roulette machines in their betting shops.

Rank and London Clubs, which would not be affected by the proposals for roulette machines, remained flat.

Stanley Leisure, known for its 175-year-old Crockford’s casino in London’s Mayfair district, plans to build a 125 million-pound casino complex near Leeds football stadium in northern England.

Caesar’s plans a $600 million gambling resort at the rebuilt National Stadium at Wembley in London in a joint venture with Quintain Estates.

But Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell stressed the bill was as much about protecting children and gambling addicts as it was about loosening outdated controls.

Addiction fears
“This is a bill about new protections, not new casinos,” she said. “We will only allow extra choice where we are confident sufficient protections are in place to protect children and vulnerable people.”

The industry has been angered by her plans to restrict high-prize million-pound machines over fears of gambling addiction.

Last month, gambling expert professor Mark Griffiths warned that deregulation could lead to a doubling of Britain’s approximately 300,000 addicted gamblers.

“Levels of problem gambling are low in Britain, and I am totally committed to keeping it that way,” said Jowell.

The high-prize machines will be limited to large regional casinos, with a cap of 1,250 machines per casino. But critics say the limits on high-prize machines favor the big American companies that are champing at the bit to take on Britain.

Others such as the Daily Mail newspaper, which is running a “Kill the Casino Bill” campaign, say the proposed changes will breed a generation of gambling addicts.