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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Liberals and Gambling

The Liberals used to be the party of the temperance movement. Brewers thus always used to be Tory, prompting a barrel-load of appointments to the House of Lords that was once collectively dubbed the beerage. Anti-gambling used to be a big part of the same movement.

With that in mind, I was interested to read a month-old BBC story about the Commons culture committee (do we no longer have Select Committees?) having urged what the BBC calls "further deregulation of the gaming and betting industries".

I am on the Right of my party (a party that Charles Kennedy once called not so much a broad church as a hexagonal cathedral, or words to that effect) and am a pro-business Liberal Democrat. That notwithstanding, I doubt that I will be the only Lib Dem who will not be disappointed if the Coalition Government fails to find the time to further deregulate the gaming and betting industries.

I quite like the idea of allowing those gambling dens that have the tightest entry rules to have the most lax gaming restrictions, so incentivising the imposition of tight entry rules. I understand that some past efforts to regulate gambling have had unintended consequences, including the opening of more (not fewer) betting shops. I appreciate that logic might dictate some further relaxation of the law.

But there is more to life than logic and the streets are not filled with indigent casino magnates begging for the price of a cup of tea. This need not be a priority for government. The gaming industry has done nothing to win my affection. This is an issue on which a lot of ordinary people have strong views, in a way that does not particularly favour the gambling industry.

Were senior Lib Dems in government to let it be known that gaming reform is a non-starter whatever the Tories and their donors may say, I think that they could generate a lot of support in unexpected quarters, including in some conservative parts of the media.

I write as someone who is in relative ignorance of this policy area.

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