Casinos win as law on gambling is reformed

4/8/2002 (By Rosemary Bennett, FT.com) Strict limits governing jackpots and stakes on casino-based slot machines will be scrapped when sweeping reforms of 30-year-old gambling laws are unveiled on Tuesday.

However, liberalisation of casino laws will be accompanied by tighter rules on gaming machines in pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Tessa Jowell, culture secretary, will set out her proposals in white paper, a formal response to a review of gambling law conducted by Sir Alan Budd, former chief economic adviser to the Treasury. All the measures will be contained in a single bill. Ministers hope to secure a slot for the legislation in the next parliamentary session so the changes will be in place for summer 2003.

Whitehall officials say they want to liberalise gambling in venues where adults have made a conscious choice to bet. In exchange they want to make it more difficult for children and impulse gamblers passing machines in pubs and clubs to bet.

Casinos currently have to restrict gaming machine jackpots to £2,000 and stakes to 50p. Under the reforms, casino groups will be able to link their machines in different branches to offer big weekly or monthly cash prizes. They will also be able to offer roll-over jackpots if no one wins, a practice popular in the US.

However, seaside amusement arcades will have to reduce the value of prizes offered by their machines where children can play. The maximum prize will be £5, down from £8, with stakes reduced from 30p to 10p.

In pubs, landlords will be obliged to police strictly their gaming machines and ensure only adults are allowed to play. Prizes there will be limited to £25.

Ms Jowell rejected Sir Alan’s recommendation to ban slot machines with high jackpots from working men’s clubs and sports clubs to protect minors.

The big casino groups, such as Rank and Stanley Leisure, look set to be among the chief beneficiaries of the changes. As well as lifting restrictions on gaming machines, they will be able to open Las Vegas-style entertainment centres offering betting, roulette, bingo and live entertainment all under one roof.