Thursday, July 12, 2007

Brown cashes casinos out

A few years ago a paper crossed my desk at the Council. Did Basildon want to bid for one of the 16 large casinos or the super-casino? I gave the matter some thought, about 10 seconds thought actually, then I said no and moved on to something more important. Now I am not a moralist about gambling, I don't like it much, and I have never set foot in a casino, but I'm a Tory and freedom of choice and all that. If someone wants to build one in Basildon then I'll consider it, but I wasn't about to engage in some expensive bidding process for the right to get one. Casinos aren't that wonderful and they certainly aren't a launch-pad for regeneration. Put a Casino in a depressed area then you get some jobs as waitresses and croupiers, but the glitz stops one street away from gambling, and there is no evidence that they attract much in the way of secondary commerce unless you do the whole Las Vegas thing. More importantly, the American companies that run large casinos have the most sophisticated marketing on the planet and it is expressly designed to separate people, often very ordinary people, from their money. Large US-style casinos mean more gambling, much more gambling in fact, with a certain increase in all of the associated social problems.

What was always astonishing was that the supposed party of the working class was helping large foreign companies fleece them. Labour MPs, including one G. Brown esquire, voted this through the Commons and, ironically, it was the Lords that stepped in to block Blair's little scheme. Now Gordon Brown has killed it dead. Getting the Gambling Bill through would have taken years of legislative ping-pong between Lords and Commons. In political terms it's not worth it, so the Casinos go, and it's all dressed up as Brown's puritan upbringing and a dramatic break with the past. Everyone wins, except for the American casino executives that is. They probably feel like asking Prescott for their cowboy outfit back.

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