he proposals raise the prospect that high streets up and down the country could offer the machines, which invite gamblers to bet an amount representing a quarter of the average amount taken home each week by workers with a single press of a button. One senior MP, John Whittingdale, the Conservative chairman of the committee, described the current system of gambling regulation as “reluctantly permissive,” and insisted that fruit machines were “legitimate entertainment”. But critics of the relaxation of the gambling laws, including a number of church groups, expressed alarm at the committee’s proposal.
Gareth Wallace from the Salvation Army said: “This is a one-way street towards more addictive gambling machines in our communities. We’re perplexed that the committee would recommend a further liberalisation of gambling machines when they heard evidence that problem gambling is on the rise.”
Daniel Webster, of the Evangelical Alliance, added: “The committee completely ignored the risks posed by B2 gaming machines. You can lose thousands of pounds an hour on these machines, but if the committee gets its way casinos will be granted more B2 machines, betting shops will be subject to no compulsory limit, and, for the first time, gaming arcades will be allowed to operate them.”
And Helena Chambers, of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, said: "The Select Committee has not given the increase in problem gambling the priority it deserves.”
In their report, which investigated the operation of the 2005 Gambling Act, the MPs said casinos and betting shops should be charged lower fees by industry regulators. The Act, introduced by the then-Labour government, had originally included plans for a so-called “Super Casino,” to be based in Manchester, and which would have had with dozens of Las Vegas-style fruit machines.
A powerful alliance of anti-gambling groups opposed the proposals, however, and the expected surge in medium-sized casinos, which supporters claimed would boost regional economies, was also never realised.
Whittingdale said that there remained “little enthusiasm” within the industry for a super-casino, but insisted that local authorities should be given the power to encourage smaller gambling venues. At present, the power to allow an area to host a casino containing high stakes fruit machines lies only with central government.
But, the chairman said: "Gambling is now widely accepted in the UK as a legitimate entertainment activity. There are a number of local authorities who have sought permission to establish casinos and in our view there isn't any reason why they shouldn't be allowed to if it is for the benefit of the local community. We think that if it is up to the Government to set the general rules, it should be left to local authorities to say whether they think establishing a casino in their area would be a good idea."
The MPs claimed that allowing more than four high stakes machines in a betting shop would stop firms from “clustering” large numbers of shops in town centres. Campaigners for diverse high streets say that many have become saturated with betting shops, and anti-gambling groups argue that rather than promote more slot machines, the Government should give local authorities the power to stop betting firms opening more shops in areas where a high number already exist.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that ministers welcomed the report and would respond in due course. A review of stakes and prizes in betting shops and casinos is due later in the year.
Malcolm Moss, chairman of the National Casino Industry Forum, said: "We are very pleased the committee has recognised the value, integrity and achievements of the British casino industry. "Harmonising the rules on the number and type of gambling products all casinos can have will prevent customer confusion and make it clear what to expect from a UK casino."