Brandon Lewis is MP for Great Yarmouth. He Twitters here.
Gambling is a part of everyday life and has been since before we could use calculators, the internet, or understood spread betting (for those that do)!
Most gambling is accepted as a normal activity; whether it is a horse race, dog race, betting on our favourite team to win their next match or our regular clutch of lottery tickets. Yet it seems society still attaches a stigma to gambling in casinos. Despite that, casinos operate across the United Kingdom. Tourist towns offer them to visitors as additional evening entertainment. Elsewhere they are integral to the night-time economy of many larger towns and cities.
Casino gaming is a huge industry, where the lead companies strive to provide a safe and enjoyable experience. They need their customers to be able to afford the stake they gamble, as this builds repeat custom and a long-term client base. It is why so many companies invest in schemes to identify problem gamblers, and so giving support and protection to overcome any addiction.
The 2005 Gaming Act attempted to make gaming in the UK more accessible, so that it boosted the tourism and entertainment sectors. Let’s not forget tourism is the 5th or 6th largest employment industry in the country. However, the act has failed in its aim. There are around forty licences unused with none of the much-lauded super-casinos licensed let alone built. One licence was earmarked for my Great Yarmouth constituency, where we are keen to see the economic boost and job creation it will bring. We are still a long way from awarding a license to the winning bidder. The legislation was too complicated and led to local authorities spending a fortune in taxpayers' money to protect themselves from judicial review when awarding a licence.
What a bureaucratic waste to create so many licenses that are unused and perhaps unwanted. Some are in areas where the industry simply does not require them as the market demographics have changed since their creation. The Localism Bill grants a new general power of competence for local authorities. It will be interesting to see if any local authorities use that power to trade a licence with another council. Why not? If one authority has an unused and unwanted licence whereas another has the capacity for an additional casino, they should have the opportunity to trade the license. The casino operator and not the taxpayer covers the transfer costs. Allow simple supply and demand to determine the need for licenses not the civil service and ministers in Whitehall.
We also have an inconsistent approach to gaming. We have the farce of someone being in a casino but unable to play the same games that they could in the bookmakers downstairs. We are unable to play games, (under the supervision of an amusement arcade owner, bookmaker, casino operator or publican), that we can access through a mobile phone or other handheld device. The law is hindering our own home-grown gaming industry but benefitting offshore operations that do not provide UK jobs and avoid our tax regime. Deregulation or gaming reform will end this anomaly.
A new piece of gaming legislation is not a high priority for government, nor should it be. However, if the opportunity arises, I hope we will grasp it and be bold. Not afraid of political correctness. This industry can provide real economic benefits. With regulatory safeguards, we can see it flourish whilst still protecting those that are vulnerable in our society.