If as Polly Toynbee claimed, the Gambling Act 2005 really was a „green light to addiction“, I would not have supported it. Her accusations about „unlimited super casinos“ and „doubling the number of addicts“ are also untrue. With the Gambling Commission implementing and policing this act, Britain will have the toughest and most protective regulatory regime in the world.
Toynbee says gambling’s £50bn turnover „ought to worry any government, but apparently not this one“. She could not be more wrong. Labour had to legislate precisely because a gambling revolution had left people exposed to harm. New technologies, combined with increased prosperity and changing attitudes, mean gambling is more common than ever, including large increases in women gambling online.
So the act strictly regulates all these new gambling opportunities for the first time and protects the vulnerable, without placing undue restrictions on the freedom of adults to spend their free time and disposable income as they wish.
Let me nail the „super-casinos“ myth: 17 new casinos will be piloted – but only one so-called „super-casino“, permitted to trial jackpot machines with unlimited stakes and prizes that most European countries already allow. And it is precisely because of the risks associated with unregulated operations that the Gambling Commission will dictate all operational details, including speed of play, on all slot machines in Britain.
No aspect of gambling covered by the act is beyond the commission’s control, and every development in the industry can now be reversed if proved to cause harm. For instance, the super-casino won’t be the rapacious Las Vegas-style den that some fear. Tricks of the trade common overseas will be banned here.
All British casinos must enforce high standards of social responsibility, and the commission can ban free alcohol as an inducement to gambling. Similarly, it is thoroughly „Labour“ to allow our cities and towns to stimulate economic regeneration. In some places a new casino will leverage much needed investment to transform sporting, leisure and tourist facilities.
That explains why 27 councils are bidding for the sole regional casino licence. Of course, casinos rightly stimulate local debate and the act permits every council to impose a blanket ban on new casinos if it wishes. Local residents can and must tell their elected representatives whether they want a casino, and if so, on what scale and on what conditions.
The act is cautious, permitting a small number of new casino pilots in areas that will provide the best test of their impact and that make the strongest case for lasting regeneration benefits. The impact of these new developments will be tested rigorously, and only if this assessment is positive, and only if parliament approves, would any more casinos be permitted.
So the reality could not be further from the „green light“ Toynbee predicts. We will have the toughest rules and the most powerful regulator in the world to protect people from harm. People should expect nothing less of a progressive Labour government.
Tessa Jowell is secretary of state for culture, media and sport.