Labour Finally Owns Up: Casino Reform Could Create More Gambling Addicts

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Byline: MATTHEW HICKLEY

THE number of people addicted to gambling could soar because of Labour's casino reforms, the Government finally admitted last night.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell had previously said that the Gambling Act - which will allow Las Vegas-style casinos to spring up across Britain - would be a failure if it led to 'an increase in problem gambling'.

Now her officials claim she was referring to the proportion and not the actual number of people suffering addiction problems.

The Culture Department was caught out when the head of its new gambling watchdog admitted addict numbers may rise - and a realistic target was merely to prevent any increase in the percentage of the total number of gamblers who suffer problems.

Last night, Miss Jowell's officials were forced to concede that Gambling Commission chairman Peter Dean's comments were correct.

And in a damage limitation exercise they insisted her original pledge to prevent 'an increase in problem gambling' would be judged in 'proportionate terms', as the army of gamblers grows.

That means the current figure of 300,000 gambling addicts could soar, yet Labour would claim its laws were a success - provided the percentage of all gamblers becoming addicts remains the same.

Last night, opponents accused Miss Jowell of 'politician's doublespeak'.

Addiction expert Dr Emmanuel Moran, adviser to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 'Talking about proportions

won't be of much comfort to the growing numbers of people addicted to gambling.

'When Tessa Jowell told Parliament that a rise in problem gambling would be a bad thing, I don't think anyone would interpret that as meaning it would be acceptable for more people to become addicted.' Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire accused Miss Jowell's department of 'backtracking'.

'Parliament would have been far more cautious if Ministers had been more honest,' he said. 'If they thought this law would lead to an increase in problem gamblers, they should have said so.' The potential rise in social misery from gambling has been central to the casinos debate.

In 2004, Miss Jowell told a committee of MPs and peers: 'If this legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling then it would have failed and it would be bad legislation and it would have defeated the intention and the purposes that we have.' Yesterday, a spokesman for her department said: 'She was talking about the proportion of gamblers.

That's what she meant. It is only sensible to judge things in terms that are relative to the situation.

'We can't have an absolute number and judge legislation in that way. It is rates that are important.' The Government has commissioned a 'Prevalence Survey' to establish a basemark of existing gambling addiction before the new casinos are built.

In the face of a backbench revolt, Miss Jowell promised tough regulation, claiming the industry would 'operate in awe of the Gambling Commission. …