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UK GAMING
“…the gambling industry
remains addicted to factional
infighting which is very counter-
productive…”
Former UK Shadow Gambling Minister Nick Hawkins sorts the wheat
from the chaff in his bi-monthly column…
T
he opponents of gambling have been a bit What else has been happening of interest in the
more active recently in the public arena; gambling public affairs world? Well, the European
there will always be people who simply refuse Parliament has produced a report under the
to accept that gambling is a vital part of the Chairmanship of Danish MEP Christel Schaldemose.
legitimate leisure industry. On the plus side, Long experience has made me quite cynical about
however, the astonishing 100-to-1 success of Mon whether such reports have any substantial effect – it is
Mome in the Grand National and all the positive media the Commission which has the power in Europe, not
coverage of the happy local punters in all the bookies the Parliament, and Commission decisions and
offices in and around Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, publications are to be taken very seriously indeed, while
close to where Venetia Williams trains the biggest the Parliament’s product (rather like Select Committee
surprise winner since Foinavon in 1967 (and this time Reports in the UK Parliament) is often politely paid lip-
happily without a pile-up of fallers) has shown the service to, then completely ignored by those deciding
upside of having a flutter in the British national psyche. the policy. However, Schaldemose (a name reminiscent
I just wish I’d backed the winner! of comic opera for me, though one should really resist
The recent debates in Parliament on various aspects the temptation to refer impolitely to names of other
of gambling policy have highlighted a couple of points nationalities!) has certainly upset those in the online
Nick Hawkins is a Barrister for me – first, the fact that there has been such a world, as it suggested there were substantial risks
specialising in Gambling and dramatic declline in religious observance in Britain associated with online gambling. There was also an
Leisure law. In his 13 years (except among Muslims) in recent years has meant alternative European Parliament minority opposition
in Parliament previously, he there is less “traction” for anti-gambling sentiments report, which was much more welcome to the industry,
held roles in Government and purely on grounds of “morality” or “sin”. So the so-called seeking co-operation on standards on online gambling
Opposition, including “faith groups” campaign against increases in stakes and across Europe and early decisions on the many
Shadow Solicitor-General prizes for certain categories of machines looks doomed. outstanding infringement proceedings. What is pretty
and Shadow Sports Minister. Second, however, the gambling industry remains clear at the moment is that there is no move towards a
He is now Legal Director for addicted to factional infighting which is very counter- Europe-wide gambling law. Member States will continue
a gaming company. productive. There was briefing and counter-briefing to be responsible for their own laws, but subject to the
going on – and I wonder whether the lesson will ever be ongoing legal challenges to many countries as they
learned that, in an industry which in national political continue to be protectionist of national monopolies
terms is considered quite small beer, it is not helpful for and fail to comply with the Directive on Freedom of
one part to attack another. If seaside arcades’ Services. Although some countries are unbending
spokesmen spend their time attacking bookies on the slowly under the pressure of infringement proceedings,
subject of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, or attacking the main message is: don’t expect a free market in
casinos, or attacking on-line betting operators, or vice gambling of all kinds across Europe any time soon. If we
versa in each case, there is a serious danger that ever get there I don’t see it being before 2020!
politicians of any party for whom this is not a Finally, a big welcome for the plans recently
mainstream interest will say “if you can’t get your act announced, on the new London Hippodrome casino
together as an industry and speak with a single voice, with cabaret theatre – it looks as if it will be a fantastic
why should we help you?” There are now some welcome addition to the London scene. No surprise given that
(and in my view long-overdue) moves towards getting Simon Thomas, who I’ve long regarded as one of the
collective work done by an “association of associations”, shrewdest peoplle in UK gaming, and the Thomas
and I hope this bears fruit. Time will tell. family, are behind it.
14 MAY 2009
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