The government’s controversial plans to give the green light to Las Vegas-style super-casinos across the country are facing fresh scrutiny after a secret police report raised concerns that they would cause crime and antisocial behaviour to rise.
The internal police report undermines government pledges that the new casinos would not lead to a rise in crime or problem gambling, particularly among the young. It says that ‚vulnerable‘ groups could be lured into gambling.
The secret report will be highly embarrassing for the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, who has promoted the gambling plans as being good for the country and is expected to name the site of the country’s first super-casino in two weeks‘ time, with the Dome in London the front-runner.
The report, provided to consultants analysing the Dome development, says police are concerned that the new breed of casinos would risk:
– increasing antisocial behaviour and diverting police resources;
– increasing organised crime and money laundering; and
– increasing access to gambling for children and vulnerable groups.
The document, obtained during an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and The Observer, will be seen as a direct attack on Jowell. She has always insisted the Gambling Act will not lead to a rise in social problems such as compulsive gambling and crime.
The report was written by Britain’s top police officer responsible for gambling, Detective Inspector Darren Warner of the Metropolitan Police’s Gaming Unit. Warner was asked to submit his views to consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was preparing a study into the social impact of a super-casino at the Millennium Dome. The report is dated March 2006, but has not been made public until today.
Warner is particularly concerned about the combination of new casinos with the relaxation of drinking laws. ‚Excessive drinking and gambling are a poor combination,‘ he states. ‚Deregulation raises concerns around incentives to customers, cheap drinks etc… with corresponding antisocial behaviour problems.‘
Although he gives super-casinos a ‚cautious welcome‘, he warns: ‚[With] a massive development attracting thousands, or possible hundreds, of people a day there are obvious problems related to that. The biggest contributor to antisocial behaviour problems in the area is not the fact that the premises hold gaming licences, it is the additional fact they will hold liquor licences… this would mean a shift in the demand on police from their traditional activities.‘
Warner also fears that super-casinos would ‚increase access to gambling for children and vulnerable groups‘. He states: ‚This will happen, as it’s in every developer’s manifesto. The „destination casinos“ are offering other family-oriented activities. Children will be taken to a gambling resort even if they are kept 50 yards away in another type of play room until they graduate at 18.‘
Warner also fears that sex-based attractions will be used to lure gamblers in. While the industry has promised this will not be the case, Warner states: ‚When market forces are placed on the industry there are real concerns that the industry will not maintain its undertakings.‘
The secret report also lambasts the government for allowing casinos to accept punters without requiring them to become members. Warner says: ‚The membership rule is to be abolished; this is to be replaced with a requirement for casinos to require positive identification of those who enter casinos. For law enforcement this is insufficient.‘ Warner insists ‚identification‘ should mean a passport or a driving licence: a requirement that the industry, with the help of ministers, has so far resisted.
Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire said: ‚It seems extraordinary that such dire warnings from police experts should have seemingly been swept under the carpet.‘
Warner also criticises the casino industry’s practice of hiring eastern European staff. He states: ‚The industry that prides itself as being „more regulated than the London and New York stock exchanges“ … has a body of employees whose history cannot be checked further back than the day they entered the UK.‘
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: ‚Keeping out crime and protecting children and vulnerable people are central principles of the Gambling Act…. All casinos will be subject to strict controls and their impact will be closely monitored.‘
Dispatches: Labour’s Gambling Addiction‘ will be shown on Channel 4 at 8pm on 22 January.