125 new casinos on the cards despite a Government pledge to restrict numbers

The number of casinos is set to nearly double despite a Government promise to restrict openings.

Gaming firms have applied to build 125 smaller casinos and 16 „regional“ centres to add to the 144 they already run.

The total of 285 is almost double the cap of 150 set by the Government when introducing new gambling legislation in January 2005.

Culture Minister Richard Caborn told MPs during a line-by-line debate on the Gambling Bill: „We can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos.“

But operators have sidestepped this limit by lodging applications before the laws came into force last September.

The figures on applications emerged in a written answer published by Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

Gordon Brown, who has blocked plans for a super-casino in Manchester, has ordered a review into the 16 regional casinos – raising hopes he will kill off the gambling free-for-all championed by his predecessor Tony Blair.

But Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is set to give the regional casinos the go-ahead – possibly as early as tomorrow.

The number of existing casinos has already risen by 24 per cent since Labour came to power – from 116 in 1997 to 144 in January.

Don Foster, Lib Dem culture spokesman, said: „The Government assured MPs there was no desire for a gambling free-for-all and that the new laws would significantly reduce the number of new casinos.

„Instead, ministers have spent months messing everyone concerned around over these new casinos while turning a blind eye to an explosion in the number of casinos just around the corner.

„This is not a question about the rights or wrongs of gambling.

„It is about the Government’s complete failure to accurately predict the number of casinos we would end up with following its gambling reforms.“

Tory culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt said: „The Government’s record on gambling consists of broken promises and inconsistency.

„This latest development shows that their policy is in total disarray.

„Gordon Brown claimed to care about gambling addiction when he cancelled the super-casino but in reality he was allowing nearly a hundred smaller casinos in through the back door.

„This is a shocking betrayal for the many organisations fighting to stop the growth of gambling addiction.“

Dr Emanuel Moran, a specialist adviser on pathological gambling for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, predicted the increase in casinos would spark a rise in addiction, poverty and crime.

„This is a major leap up the scale,“ he said.

„We are going to see casinos springing up across the country with more machines offering bigger jackpots and that is unacceptable and irresponsible.“

Professor Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, who is Europe’s only professor of gambling studies, said: „Generally, increased access to gambling opportunities leads to an increase in problems.“

However, he said this impact could be lessened if the Government put in place measures to tackle problem gambling such as funding addiction treatment.

Casino applicants must receive a certificate of consent from the Gambling Commission and approval from local magistrates.

The Gambling Commission says it is dealing with 78 casino applications, rather than 125, because some will have been withdrawn.

A Culture Department spokesman said: „Any new casino that opens will be required to abide by strict new rules to protect children and other vulnerable people.

„There is no guarantee that all the outstanding applications under the old legislation will be granted or will result in a new casinos opening.“