After a heated debate in Parliament, British MPs voted 286-212 Monday to back the Gambling Bill, a law that would overhaul British gambling policy. It was the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons.
The full version of the bill was introduced last week and immediately caught the ire of members of the Labour Party, who said they will not support the bill in the House of Commons unless some concessions were made. The chief concern was the social implications of expanding legalized gambling, and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who introduced the bill, was busy over the weekend making deals in an effort to gain the support needed for passage.
Jowell is hopeful the bill can become law by the middle of next year, but it will first face a long journey through both chambers of Parliament.
At the center of the debate is whether the expansion of gambling will increase the rate of gambling addiction and what level of control cities would have in deciding whether to allow mega-casinos. Those concerns were addressed, however, by an amendment empowering local authorities to approve or disapprove mega-casinos, thereby preventing casino operators from having free reign to build mega-casinos anywhere they want.
"[The Gambling Bill] puts power firmly in the hands of local communities," Jowell said. "New casinos will only come to their area if they want them. Full stop. I know passions are running high."
With new British gambling policies presumably on the way, international gambling companies have already begun investing in the U.K. market. Caesars Entertainment Inc., MGM Mirage Inc. and Harrah's Entertainment--all U.S. companies--have inked deals with potential partners to position themselves for the passage of the Gambling Bill, which would pave the way for Las Vegas-style mega-resorts.
Jowell told the Commons on Monday that England's gambling laws needed to be updated because the country was missing out on a possible revenue producer.
"Three years ago, 250,000 Britons traveled to Las Vegas. Next year that is likely to have doubled to 500,000," Jowell said. "We do not want to drive gambling underground or offshore. . . . People will keep on choosing casino games, whether we like it or not. The question is how we direct that demand."
Under Britain's 1968 Gaming Act, casinos operate as private clubs at which gamblers must apply for membership 24 hours before entering. Rules banning live entertainment and alcohol served at gaming tables have been lifted recently, but the clubs are still restricted to eight slot machines, with a 50 pence (US$0.90) maximum stake and jackpots limited to £2,000 (US$3,600).
The legislation scraps the 24-hour rule and allows casinos larger than 53,820 square feet to install up to 1,250 slot machines with unlimited stakes and jackpots.
The bill now goes to a special House of Commons committee for further scrutiny and possibly further amendments. From there it goes back to the Commons for another vote and, if passed, on to the House of Lords, Parliament's upper chamber.
The remote gambling portion of the bill, which would allow U.K. casinos to operate online, has remained intact throughout the debate process.
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