World leaders are locked in a seemingly endless round of summits to solve the global economic crisis. Back home ministers are busy playing down their influence and briefing that they don’t have all the answers to our financial woes. One thing is clear to everyone in government: If Britain is to drag itself out of the economic mire, the private sector will have to be at the forefront of the recovery. It is increasingly difficult to see where that drive is going to come from. However, there is one industry that is ready to play its part and contribute to the growth agenda. A recent study for the National Casino Industry Forum forecast that modest reforms of Britain’s outdated gambling laws could generate up to 5,000 new jobs and an extra £70-80 million in additional taxes. We are not talking about a return to Labour’s plans for a regional super casino that sparked a media frenzy in 2005. These are modest, sensible reforms to modernise an important and legitimate industry and free it up to create more jobs.
The first reform is tied to the localism agenda David Cameron insists he is so passionate about. Currently casinos are only allowed in certain areas of the country which are based on out-of-date population sizes. If the PM really is committed to localism, shouldn’t he let local councils decide for themselves if they want to be a permitted area? A licence which has formerly operated and is not being used should be able to be moved to an area that wants a casino and the associated investment and jobs. We are not talking about a free-for-all or having casinos in every town in Britain. This reform would not increase the number of casinos allowed. But it seems crazy to cluster 186 casinos in just 53 areas.
Another change would be to create a level playing field. Different casinos have different numbers of machines depending upon which Act they were built under. This creates confusion for customers. The same rules should apply across the board. Customers would then know exactly what to expect from a British casino.
We would also like the government to recognise the world has changed and gaming now operates in the Internet age. You can play virtual card and roulette games at home, in the office – even on your Smartphone at church if you really want. The only place you can’t is in a casino. This is simply nonsensical given that a government-commissioned report recognised that casinos were the safest place to gamble, with trained and licensed staff, and extensive and approved responsible gambling measures in place. Also, as casinos are the safest place to gamble it really doesn’t make sense that stakes in a Mayfair casino are exactly the same as on a machine in an arcade on Brighton pier.
Changing these outdated laws would make casinos more attractive and persuade people to gamble there, in a regulated and social environment rather than on the Internet at home. And it would mean the Treasury gets more in taxes which online operators escape paying.
The casino industry was toxified by the media storm in 2005. This is unfair. It is a legitimate industry directly employing more than 13,000 people. It is a rightful part of Britain’s important tourism industry. Modern British casinos are entertainment destinations with top class restaurants and entertainment as well as gambling. And they can provide jobs for the NEET generation with decent wages and on-the-job training to build careers. If the government wants to kick-start growth, we are ready to invest in sensible, modest reforms of casinos. These businesses can be part of the government’s growth agenda. Change would free us to create thousands of jobs and provide a much-needed boost to local economies while improving customer choice and letting people gamble in the safest, most regulated environment.