HL Deb 15 July 1998 vol 592 cc32-4WA
Lord Williams of Elvel

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they have for casino deregulation. [HL2825]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

We are pleased to announce our conclusions on casino deregulation. We intend to bring forward proposals to allow: postal applications for membership of casinos; group membership; and limited factual advertising. These will be the first gambling deregulation proposals to be brought forward under this Government. The previous administration consulted on similar proposals in November 1996.1 They announced on 13 March 1997 that the proposals had broad support and were suitable for a deregulation order but the general election intervened before that work could be taken forward.

We will need to consult afresh because some changes are appropriate in the light of the earlier consultation. In particular, it was previously proposed to allow advertising only in non-national publications. We think this would be unduly restrictive and difficult to enforce. We propose to allow factual advertising in national publications.

The procedures for deregulation orders require consultation on specific proposals before an order can be laid. The consultation paper will give full details of the proposals. They have been agreed in principle by the Gaming Board and the British Casino Association.

We have also discussed the advertising proposals with the Advertising Association and the Advertising Standards Authority.

The consultation paper will be published in the next few weeks. Subject to the outcome, we expect to lay deregulation proposals in the autumn for scrutiny by the deregulation committees. 1 Home Office paper entitled Second Consultation on Casino Deregulation.

We acknowledge the comments made by the previous deregulation committees to the effect that the gambling law is complex and that some previous deregulation orders have increased that complexity. They called for a general overhaul and consolidation of the gambling legislation. We have discussed these concerns with the chairmen of the current committees. It was recognised that general gambling reform would be a large undertaking, involving three main Acts of Parliament—the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. There is a case for such an exercise but we are not able to take it forward in the short term, and we propose meanwhile to continue to use the deregulation process to make appropriate, selective changes.

We have also considered the other casino proposals consulted on in November 1996—for slot machines and permitted areas. We have no fundamental objections to some change in these areas, but we will need to consider further the resource issues.

The November 1996 paper recommended the introduction of casino slot machines with unlimited prizes. We have concluded that in principle there should be no objection to casinos, which are premises expressly licensed for hard gambling, having the same type of slot machines as are common in casinos in other countries. But there should be a staged approach, with a smaller number of machines initially, to allow the impact to be assessed. A maximum of 20 machines per casino would be the most suitable figure. However, at a time of pressure on public expenditure, it is not clear how the necessary additional funding could be found for the Gaming Board to supervise a new slot machines regime. Discussions on machines are continuing within government and with the Gaming Board and the casino industry.

In the meantime, following a recommendation by the Gaming Board, we have agreed in principle to make regulations with effect from 1 October 1998 to increase the maximum prize for jackpot machines in casinos from £250 to £1,000 and the maximum stake from 30p to 50p. These proposals arise from the triennial review of machine stake and prize limits, full details of which I am announcing separately today.

At present, casinos are allowed up to six jackpot machines. The number was increased from two to six machines in June 1996 by deregulation order. We consider that a further modest increase would be appropriate, and will include in the consultation paper referred to above a proposal that casinos may have up to 10 such machines.

The previous government also proposed allowing casinos in additional areas, to be implemented by secondary legislation. It was made clear at the time that no timetable for implementation could be set because of the resource implications for the Gaming Board and the courts.

We have carefully considered the case for additional areas. We have concluded that Great Britain is already well served with casinos and that there is not a compelling case for a large extension to that provision. The pressure for additional casinos has come mainly from the industry or individual local authorities rather than the general public. There are already 53 permitted areas. The previous proposals would have added 21. We do not consider it appropriate to designate so many additional areas, particularly those which do not have a significant resident population. Further work would need to be done on the criteria; and additional funding would need to be found for the Gaming Board and the courts. In the light of other, more pressing priorities, we have decided not to take forward any change for the time being.

We may wish to make proposals for a small number of additional areas in the future. There would need to be a good case on population grounds, and any proposal would also need local authority and public support.