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Opinion: Model report that targets crime and protects punters; Opinion David Ashforth.

Byline: David Ashforth

It's thick, but only in terms of the number of pages - 300, with 139 recommendations. The joint committee on the draft Gambling Bill, chaired by John Greenway MP, has produced a model report.

Diligent, thoughtful, non-partisan, the committee deserves to be congratulated for having made a genuine contribution to the shaping of a piece of major social legislation - the most important in this field since the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act.

The report's construction reflects a healthy interactive process between the committee and the team in charge of the bill at the DCMS, who also deserve praise.

This is how parliament ought to work. The method is sensible, and so are the committee's recommendations. This is not a bill about betting exchanges - obsessed though we are with them - it's a bill to place gambling in the mainstream of leisure but within an appropriate regulatory framework; one that keeps crime out, protects the vulnerable, and gives punters a fair deal.

The committee has urged caution - rightly so. It is only recently that problem gambling has received the attention it deserves, in terms of research, education, care, and the industry's acceptance of social responsibility.

This legislation will increase the amount of gambling and, undoubtedly, the number of problem gamblers. The committee's response is to recommend more restricted access to high value gaming machines than the bill currently proposes and to further emphasise the need to address the issue of problem gambling, for instance through the potentially important work of the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. The gambling industry is booming, with more boom to come; voluntarily or compulsorily, it must make a substantial contribution to the study and treatment of the incidental victims of the activity it profits from.

At the heart of the legislation is the creation of the Gambling Commission which, as the committee emphasises, needs to be given adequate financial resources as well as regulatory and enforcement powers. Those should be used to require High Street bookmakers, as well as exchanges, to provide a flow of information about

high-staking customers and big bets. The transparency that is demanded of exchanges must be demanded of all betting suppliers.

The committee endorses the Government's view - and it is the right view - that the way to approach `remote gambling' is not to make a doomed attempt to suppress it but to regulate it effectively. Regulate it firmly, give UK-based operators an enviable worldwide reputation, and give operators the freedom to sell to the world.

"We would not generally consider it appropriate to prevent UK-based operators providing remote gambling services to non-UK consumers," says the report. Dead right. Let other countries get themselves in a terrible legal and logistical tangle.

One thought on betting exchanges. If the intention is to tax those who make money from laying horses, why not tax those who make money backing them? Either way, the number will be small, and the number of bookmakers among them tiny. Betfair insist that, last year, about 700 individuals - very few of them bookmakers - made more than pounds 15,000 either from laying or backing.

Committee members

John Greenway, chairman (Con, Ryedale)

Janet Anderson (Lab, Rossendale

& Darwen)

Tony Banks (Lab, West Ham)

Jeff Ennis (Lab, Barnsley E

& Mexborough)

Alan Meale (Lab, Mansfield)

Richard Page (Con, SW Hertfordshire)

John Pugh (Lib Dem, Southport)

Tony Wright (Lab, Great Yarmouth)

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville (Con)

Lord Donoughue of Ashton (Lab)

Lord Falkland (Lib Dem)

Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab)

Baroness Golding (Lab)

Lord Mancroft (Con)

Lord Wade of Chorlton (Con)

Lord Walpole (crossbencher)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Apr 8, 2004
Words:591
Previous Article:BHB delight as proposals are backed; Reaction from Portman Square.
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