Gambling Bill criticised by Labour MP

A YORKSHIRE backbencher has become one of the first in the country to turn against his Government's gambling proposals, which he says will allow Las Vegas-style casinos to "let rip" across Britain. Simon McGee Political Editor

Selby MP John Grogan, who enjoys a gamble, believes the deregulation proposed in the new Gambling Bill will be harmful, despite some elements that will impose greater restrictions on the industry.

His comments come ahead of a meeting today for Labour backbenchers and the Minister responsible for the Bill, Lord McIntosh, at which a number of MPs are expected to make clear their concerns.

They also coincide with the publication of a poll suggesting public opinion is increasingly hostile to the Government's plans to introduce US-style "mega-casinos".

The poll was commissioned by BACTA (British Amusement Catering Trade Association), which found that 74 per cent believe making gambling more widely available via regional casinos will en-courage people to gamble more than they can afford, and 53 per cent are completely opposed to the introduction of these casinos in the UK.

Mr Grogan and another Labour MP, veteran Frank Field, are the first to openly and seriously question the Government's wisdom in a motion that "calls upon the Government to give a commitment to limit this reform, in the first instance, to a few pilot projects on which the Government will then be able to proceed on the basis of evidence-based reform".

The Bill will allow million-pound slot machines and round-the-clock casinos, and for the first time race meetings on Christmas Day and Good Friday. In Yorkshire there are plans for at least seven super-casinos, including three in each of Leeds and Sheffield and one in Hull.

The Stanley Leisure group is planning to open a 125m casino complex next to Leeds United's football ground.

Mr Grogan said: "I'm one of a growing band of sceptics.

"I'm actually a gambler. I'm not coming at this from a purit-

anical point of view. I like the horses and casinos, but these things are going to be huge.

"My first worry is about regional casinos. The original expectation was that there might be one, two or three of these. Now it looks like we're going to have 20, 30 or 40."

He is also concerned about the way gambling like roulette tables, at present heavily restricted, will be mixed with games like bingo.

"I'm very anxious about mixing hard and soft gamb-ling," he said. "We don't want to see pensioners go bust."

Ryedale MP John Greenway, who chaired the cross-party committee into the draft Gambling Bill, said it was important to ensure genuine leisure complexes were located on their own.