Friday, January 28, 2005

Gambling and 24-hour drinking

Here is today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Ayes down

Casino Royale, the first James Bond book, begins: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”

The government has reached the 3 a.m. stage with its gambling bill.

At first ministers were excited by their plans to revive moribund resorts with casinos. No more sitting around in bus shelters waiting to be allowed back into your boarding house. Peter Hain believed they would “provide an opportunity for families to go out and eat, have some entertainment and … indulge in some leisure gambling in an adult fashion.”

But they have been shaken (not stirred) by the opposition they have run into, and the idea has turned sour. People realise the gambling industry is not planning the sort of establishments that sophisticates likes Hain or James Bond would enjoy, but sheds with row upon row of slot machines.

A similar thing has happened with the licensing laws. Town centres were going to be given new life by allowing more bars to open. But we have not seen the flourishing of a Continental café culture. We have seen the decline of traditional pubs and the opening of more and more superbars where there are no tables or chairs and young people are crammed in.

It’s called vertical drinking, but some customers don’t remain vertical for long. Now they have seen what it can mean, it’s no surprise that further liberalisation strikes many as a doubtful idea.

John Pugh’s Southport constituency is the sort of place the gambling bill is meant to help. But he described it as an industry-led proposal and said the town is regenerating itself without any. He felt the bill’s planning controls are too weak, with the local community receiving little in return for its concessions to the gambling industry.

One thing the government has done is to take powers to bar children from seaside arcades. Very New Labour.

It’s as though it had announced a free-for-all on hardcore pornography and then, when there was an outcry, reassured voters with the news that it was considering banning the Beano.

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