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A time for hoping… T

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

he UK industry desperately needs the British Government – a Conservative, business-friendly Government – to be sympathetic to it. In the Recession, with lots of public-sector jobs being cut, the

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.

industry has been seeking to make the case that plenty of jobs could be created in the gambling sector to “take up the slack” – but only if conditions are right for this, in terms particularly of taxation and regulation. The message which has been coming back from Government, right from the top is, firstly, “don’t even think about calling for a replacement for the 2005 Gambling Act” ; (because of all the problems which they watched from Opposition the previous Labour Government get themselves into with sections of the media over Gambling – a history they are determined not to repeat for themselves). So, the primary legislation stays – flawed in many ways as it is, it isn’t going to be replaced any time soon – we all have to live with it. Secondly, however, the Government (at least in the person of the current Minister) is very sympathetic to any deregulation he can do, which doesn’t involve changes to the primary legislation – the main Act – but could be achieved by a change to the law just by a statutory instrument, or better still just by the Department of Culture Media and Sport encouraging the Gambling Commission to change its procedures. If a case can be made that some changes of that sort will help create jobs, without causing any adverse publicity for the Government, so it is all “low key” stuff, the Government is likely to be very much open to those ideas.

However, as so often with any Government, there is a big “BUT”; and it is the reason for the title of this article. What the Government will feel able to do is really all predicated on the results of the national “Prevalence survey” on gambling having very similar results to last time. The industry has huge reservations about the methodology of the prevalence survey, but the problem if you change the methodology is that for a future survey you are not ‘comparing like with like’. Thus, at least for the one which is about to come out, this February or March, the methodology which has been used is the same as for the previous one. It will probably be remembered that – to the great surprise of many, and the huge disappointment of some opponents of

12 FEBRUARY 2011

gambling, people in the media like the Daily Mail Editor, no increase in the tiny proportion of people who fell into the category of “PROBLEM GAMBLERS” was shown at all. If this new survey again shows no increase – as all of us in the industry must devoutly hope – then it makes it hugely easier for the Government to respond helpfully to the issues the industry raises as needing change. If the prevalence survey comes out showing an apparent “big increase in problem gambling” – even though the sample is so tiny that it may actually be statistically meaningless – then we in the industry have a major problem, alas.

We’ll soon know – but industry leaders must be

prepared with serious media strategies for instant response to the prevalence survey results, immediately they are released.

It’s not the only matter we’re on tenterhooks

waiting for – the machine industry, at the time of writing, are also waiting to see the details of the Treasury’s controversial consultation on a move from Amusement Machine Licence Duty to a supposed 2- rate Machine Gaming Duty, a form allegedly of Gross Profits Tax. There may be battles royal ahead on this – but so much of the devil will be in detail which hasn’t been seen yet (but probably will have been by the time you’re reading this…)

Finally, I normally put in something on racing – so

just to say I was delighted to have been one of the hundreds of thousands whose vote for AP McCoy to be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year were successful – though there were many others up for the award whose exploits were great, AP’s career has been so great for so long and his courage so remarkable it would have been a travesty had he not won. Alas for me personally, my main festive racing treat didn’t happen – due to be a guest at Wetherby for what would have been a great Boxing Day, but of course the meeting was abandoned in the snow and ice. The sporting compensation for me, however, (as a still active village club cricketer in my 50’s) was of course watching the fantastic Ashes victory. The triumph was so comprehensive (and well worth staying up till 1am for!) that I’m still enjoying the jokes – after nearly a quarter of a century of losses down under. My favourite so far is “what do you call an Australian who’s good with a bat?” Answer: “A vet!”

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