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UK gambling laws: what next?
Tuesday, February 09, 2010, by Andrew Thornley, comments 0

Talk to anyone in the UK gambling industry and they will tell you they have been unimpressed by the current performance of the UK' Labour government, citing a lack of support in the quest for the UK to dominate e-gaming in Europe.


They will say that the harsh implementation of the smoking ban, along with a 50% tax rate for casinos, has undermined an industry that was already facing oversupply due to the mismanagement of the implementation of the 2005 Gambling Act. 

The bookmakers say that government never understood the arguments about betting exchanges, and consequently has seen erosion in their margins that has undermined contributions to the Levy Board, and forced UK operators including Ladbrokes and William Hill to go offshore to remain competitive. 

Now, probably due to the whining of the horse race lobby, the government is proposing to licence offshore sites that take bets from the UK.
So would the Conservative Party be better? This is a question to be given some thought, as they are 1/12 to win the general election that must take place between now and May. 

Traditionally the Conservative Party has viewed gambling as a pastime that needs to be controlled by limiting supply, restricting marketing, and taxing the industry to a level sufficient to maintain revenue without creating illegal gambling. 

It is fair to say that the Tories have allowed de-regulation to take place, but only at a pace that they think the electorate can cope with. They have taken the view that if you go too fast, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle - as we have seen in Australia. It was the Conservative government that legalised gambling in 1961, and a Conservative government that introduced the National Lottery in 1994.
 
By contrast, it was the then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan that introduced betting tax in 1966, and a harsh 1968 Gaming Act that reduced the supply of casinos down from something like a thousand to around 120, a level at which they have roughly remained since (currently 140). 

A change in sentiment for Labour occurred under the Blair government, which saw gambling as mainstream entertainment - which is how the public see it. But The Daily Mail did not, and gambling became politically toxic and has remained so since. 

GBGC' view is that you should expect much the same under the Tories as you have seen under Labour. Take Labour' stance with offshore online gambling sites being licensed in the UK, for instance. The Tories claim it was their idea and Labour stole it! 

But there is one ray of hope. The Tories are likely to take a fresh look at the Gambling Commission. This is a body that is expensive, offers poor value for money and hasn't improved life for the punters. If the Gambling Commission ceased to exist tomorrow it would not make one scrap of difference to anyone. Let' hope the Tories will realise this.