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Britain's gambling laws 'most protective in the world'.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell yesterday said new gambling legislation was the "most protective in the world" as a shortlist of eight sites competing to host the UK's first Las Vegas-style super-casino was unveiled.

The Casino Advisory Panel, the independent advisory body to the Government, said the shortlist had been whittled down from 27 applications.

The announcement has come amid concerns from some groups about problem gambling and a new survey showing that more people are seeking help in particular with problems associated with internet casinos.

Gambling advice charity GamCare said the total number of people approaching it for counselling rose 41.3 per cent from 2004 to 6,563 last year.

The Salvation Army said it remained concerned about the effect that a super-casino would have on the community where it was located and the chances of it leading to a rise in problem gambling.

Lieut-Colonel Vic Poke, chief secretary of the Salvation Army, said: "The onus is on local authorities and operators to ensure they have taken all necessary steps to identify and address the social consequences of a regional casino in their community.

"The Salvation Army would also encourage the Casino Advisory Panel to make social responsibility a priority when evaluating the remaining proposals."

Ms Jowell said she did not accept that the new casinos would necessarily spark an increase in problem gambling, but she would monitor their impact "very carefully indeed".

Asked if she would shut down casinos if they did cause problems, she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've made that absolutely clear from the outset. The new gambling legislation gives me a number of reserve powers in the event that problem gambling does begin to increase in a way that causes concern."

Ms Jowell said the gaming regime in force since the previous legislation in 1968 was out of step with the "explosion" in online gambling and other new forms of betting.

"We had to modernise and update our gambling laws, and we've done that," she said.

"We will have the most protective legislation in the world."

Attempts would also be made, she said, to persuade UK operators currently running internet betting sites from offshore locations to bring them back to Britain, where they will be covered by the new Act.

Shadow Culture Secretary Hugo Swire, said: "The Government must not renege on its promise by increasing the number of super-casinos in the pilot, but just as importantly, we now need to know how the impact of the new casino will be judged when it is up and running.

"Given that the Government has been using two different and out of date figures for the number of problem gamblers, we urgently need to know the true picture of gambling addiction in this country."

A spokesman for the Methodist Church called for robust regulation of casino operators to catch problem gamblers at an early stage.

He said: "There are already about 330,000 problem gamblers in the United Kingdom and we don't want to see anything that increases that number."

General secretary of the GMB union Paul Kenny said: "The list shows that there are eight areas that could benefit from the regeneration a regional casino will bring.

"As things stand seven areas will lose out for at least 15 years unless there is a change of heart on the number allowed.

"There will be few benefits to the area chosen unless the new jobs are permanent, secure and well paid.

"GMB will be scrutinising all the bids against this yardstick. GMB will be campaigning against bids that that do not come up to scratch."

Only one super-casino with permission for up to 1,250 unlimited jackpot slot machines is initially being permitted under the terms of the Gambling Act and a decision is expected by the end of the year

The Casino Advisory Panel also announced a provisional shortlist of 31 proposals for large and small casinos, chosen from 40 original applications

Under the Gambling Act eight large and eight small casinos are allowed in addition to the regional "super casino"

Large gambling venues will be allowed up to 150 machines offering jackpots of up to pounds 4,000, while the smaller versions will be permitted 80

As well as the eight bidding for a super-casino, 31 areas - including Dudley, Solihull and Wolverhampton - have been shortlisted for smaller casinos

The full list of 31 is: Bath & North East Somerset, Bournemouth, Brighton, Canterbury, Chelmsford, Dartford, Dudley, Dumfries and Galloway, East Lindsey, Great Yarmouth, Hastings, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Luton, Mansfield, Middlesbrough, Milton Keynes, Newham, NE Lincs, Peterborough, Restormel, Scarborough, Sefton, Solihull, Southampton, South Tyneside, Swansea, Thurrock, Torbay and Wolverhampton
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 25, 2006
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