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New government? So far, so good…

Former UK Shadow Gambling Minister Nick Hawkins sorts the wheat from the chaff in his bi-monthly column…


Nick Hawkins is a Barrister specialising in Gambling and Leisure law. In his 13 years in Parliament previously, he held roles in Government and Opposition, including Shadow Solicitor-General and Shadow Sports Minister. He is now Legal Director for a gaming company.

ince my last column, we’ve begun to see the measure of what the new Conservative/Liberal Coalition UK Government will be like to deal with, on Gambling issues. Of course, I’m biased by

my own background, but I was publicly critical of some of what they said and did in Opposition. So far, in Government, however, so good. From several meetings with the Secretary of State DCMS and the Gambling Minister John Penrose MP, I like what I’m hearing-and more importantly, colleagues across all sectors of the Gambling industry, with no political background, are saying the same. I’m also told that the best-informed Lib. Dem. MP, on our sector, Don Foster, who has no official Coalition job, is advising, and being taken seriously, which is also good news. The new team are clearly open to ideas from the industry as to how to save money and cut costs – especially the cost of regulation. Now is the time to get these ideas in, so we can shape the new Government’s agenda. All ideas need to be pitched on their ability to cut

taxpayer-funded spending, and if any scheme can preserve jobs, not increase unemployment, so much the better. However, in the public sector a lot of jobs will go – and I predict substantial savings in the gambling sector by a merger of the Gambling Commission and the National Lottery Commission, with a big cut in budget and staff for the new slimmed down regulator. There aren’t going to be many ‘sacred cows’ which

are untouchable in the search for cuts. We do still need to be mindful that, important though it is to us, our entire Gambling Sector is only a tiny (and not terribly welcome) part of the responsibilities of probably the least-powerful Government department, the DCMS. All Ministers, in both this Government and the previous one, would be, or would have been, pleased if they never had to think about Gambling from one year to the next! Since the calamitous battles which the Labour Government had with the Daily Mail Editor and the massive climbdown and rewrite of the whole casino section of what became the 2005 Gambling Act, all Ministers and their civil servants know that, to them, gambling brings only problems – there is zero chance of good publicity. Whereas, our Minister has the


title of “Minister for Tourism” – good news stories there aplenty – Gambling may be one of his responsibilities but it doesn’t get a mention in the official designation, and that’s no accident). Elsewhere in the DCMS responsibilities there are Sport and the Arts, lots of fun things, heritage, museums etc.

So, no slot in the legislative timetable to rewrite the

2005 Act – we’re stuck with it for good or ill. However, some tinkering around the edges, matters which can be improved by revised guidance, or using the delegated powers the 2005 Act gives (even a very small uncontroversial Statutory Instrument which may go through Parliament more-or-less “on the nod” without the slightest risk of controversy, that could be contemplated) if a very clear benefit in doing so can be shown by the industry. So, the gauntlet is thrown down, that’s the challenge, find the cheap, non-job- losses improvements which are uncontroversial…! Whilst that’s all happening, as I’ve written before, the industry MUST end the internal squabbkling between different sectors of Gambling, or it will be “a plague on all your houses” and we’ll get nowt, as they say up here in Yorkshire where I’m writing. We simply aren’t a significant-enough sector, to Ministers or their civil servants, for them to, as they would see it, waste their time meeting a dozen or more different representatives all arguing with each other. This is especially the case with a new Government in place. So, let’s read your ideas in the next edition – or send them to DCMS! On other matters, the machine industry has, in the

last couple of weeks, found that HM Revenue and Customs and the Commission have produced, after 8 months, a workable deal on the skill machines quandary I wrote about before, which is very welcome. On my regular racing thoughts: Workforce proved magnificent in the Derby but I wonder, if he’d been fit, St. Nicholas Abbey, who I saw equally-impressively win at Doncaster last winter would have given him a run for his money? We’ll never know. All of us in the North are hoping Paul Hanagan can hold on to win the Flat Jockeys title this season. Finally, another great horse, Harbinger, winner of the Ascot King Gorge and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in a record time, retires, ‘to stud’. Whenever I read those words, I wonder: “why can’t gambling lawyers/columnists ‘retire to stud”?!

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