Opinion: Leader - PR battle underway on casino expansion

The Government's draft bill to liberalise gaming laws and allow over 100 more casinos has created a healthy market for PR advice.

Overseas operators such as MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands - and this week Sun International - are clamouring for a slice of the action.

The PR challenge is twofold. First, they need to convince the Government that their plans won't fuel a culture of addiction and satisfy its demands to show a regard for social responsibility. Second, they need to make their casinos more accessible to the public and quash perceptions of their venues as at best, glamorous, at worst, seedy.

Media coverage of the UK's proposed casino boom has been positive: gambling in casinos promises to become a mainstream leisure activity as Britain prepares to scrap its existing 'antiquated' gaming laws. Moreover, it will create thousands of jobs and 'regenerate' communities nationwide.

But the case against the bill has so far been rather mute. Perhaps its critics are anxious not to be portrayed as killjoys.

The Government wants casino expansion, for it promises to bolster the Treasury's coffers by billions in tax revenues. But what about the public?

An NOP poll has suggested that 93 per cent of people think there are already enough opportunities to gamble in Britain.

Trotting out the CSR line here smacks of window-dressing to appease critics.

Gambling's raison d'etre is risk - responsible gambling is a paradox.

Social responsibility amounts to more than mere job creation. Indeed, a Henley Centre report predicts bingo clubs and pubs will be forced to close.

Concern even among occasional gamblers that the expansion proposed will lead to an inevitable rise in the number of addicts is natural. How can it not?

By 8 April, a parliamentary committee scrutinising the bill will issue its recommendations. The role of the regulator, the Gambling Commission, will be crucial.

Addiction fears must be tackled now or British gambling's general reputation as harmless fun - horserace-fixing scandals aside - will be the loser.

Gidon Freeman is on holiday.

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