The Government ought to rouse our sleeping casinos

They say that laws are like sausages, it is better not to see how they are made. If so, the 2005 Gambling Act was of the supermarket own-brand, ‘sixteen for a pound’ variety. It began with some sensible proposals from the distinguished economist Sir Alan Budd and ended with a fudged piece of legislation which had been built up, torn down and hastily patched back together.

The 2005 Act aimed to reform every part of the British gambling industry but it was casinos which drew all the attention. You may recall that peculiar period in late 2004 and early 2005 when there was fevered talk of “Las Vegas-style super-casinos” in parts of the press. It was never adequately explained what a super-casino was, nor how it threatened the moral health of a nation more seriously than a common or garden casino. Nevertheless, the prospect of such an establishment being built in Blackpool or Manchester became a fleeting tabloid obsession.

Unusually for New Labour, the problems stemmed from poor presentation. The earlier 1968 Gaming Act had granted a set number of casino licences to be used in a set number of permitted locations. In the spirit of localism, Labour recommended giving any town the chance to have a casino if it so desired, subject to planning permission, consumer demand and approval from the Gambling Commission and local council.

With hindsight, it would have been better if Labour had mooted some limits to casino development from the start. Transferring power from central to local government was never likely to lead to the country being overrun with gambling dens, but for those who disapproved of casinos, it was enough to know that there would be no theoretical limit on their number. Opposition came from the incumbent gambling industry, backbench MPs, certain newspapers and faith groups such as the Salvation Army. This alliance of political enemies, vested interests and moral entrepreneurs won the day. No ‘super-casino’ will be built in the UK and, in many respects, the casino industry is in a worse state today than it was a decade ago.

This piece originally appeared on Conservative Home. Continue reading here.

Yesterday the IEA published a new paper, Seven Years Later – Casinos in the aftermath of the 2005 Gambling Act, written by Christopher Snowdon. Read it here.

Christopher Snowdon is the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA. He is the author of The Art of Suppression, The Spirit Level Delusion and Velvet Glove; Iron Fist. His work focuses on pleasure, prohibition and dodgy statistics. He has authored a number of papers, including "Sock Puppets", "Euro Puppets", "The Proof of the Pudding", "The Crack Cocaine of Gambling" and "Free Market Solutions in Health".