Day of Reckoning Approaches for UK Gambling Bil

21 February 2005

The all-encompassing U.K. Gambling Bill could be killed by week's end, but the agency behind the legislation is vowing to fight for its passage.

The legislation is scheduled to return to Parliament this week with hearings in the House of Lords. The bill underwent many changes to make it past the House of Commons, and some Labour ministers are leading a charge to defeat it in the Lords in an effort to prevent the issue from dominating Labour's election campaign.

The Independent on Sunday quoted Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as saying that she would scrap the bill if it's substantially amended in the Lords.

A spokesman for the department said the bill is "going through its stages in Parliament" and that it will be passed.

"It has been the subject of nearly five years of debate and consultation and provides up-to-date regulation and public protection in an industry growing at an ever faster rate," the source said. "We are determined that this bill will reach the statute book as soon as possible."

As it stands, the bill would allow eight super casinos, establish a new independent industry regulator and introduces controls on Internet gambling. One of the main sticking points is the number and size of proposed super casinos permitted to operate.

British casino operators have lobbied against the bill, arguing that it allows foreign competitors to enter the U.K. market on unfair terms. The British Casino Association released a statement last week saying that it would continue to fight against the bill in its current form.

"We simply cannot fathom why the government has chosen to experiment with a large increase in the number of gaming machines and the provision of bookmaking services in new casinos while restricting our members from participating in these profound changes to gambling regulation,'' said Penny Cobham, chairman of the BCA.

Debate on the bill will begin in the House of Lords on Tuesday.