A ban on casinos, betting shops and other gambling operators advertising on television was relaxed by the Government on the eve of today’s announcement of the first Las Vegas-style super-casino.
The decision to allow operators to advertise on television for the first time raised fresh concerns of an increase in problem gambling.
A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph today shows high levels of public concern about the spread of gambling.
Fifty-six per cent of people interviewed believed the spread of casinos was a bad idea because it would increase problem gambling and worsen social problems such as crime, debt, loss of employment and family breakdown.
The Government is braced for further controversy today when the Casino Advisory Panel discloses its chosen location for the first super-casino and a further 16 medium and large casinos.
Blackpool and the Millennium Dome in Greenwich are said to be front-runners in the super-casino bid, though Glasgow was said to be still in the frame.
The super-casino will be the only venue permitted to have up to 1,250 unlimited jackpot gaming machines.
The Government yesterday announced the implementation from September of provisions of the Gambling Act 2005 that relax restrictions on adverts for gambling on television and in the print media. A code of practice to police adverts is being drawn up.
Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University, urged that any gambling advertising on television should be restricted to after the 9pm watershed. It should be balanced by adverts giving the potential downside, similar to anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns.
He said: „Hardly any work has been carried out on whether advertising contributes to problem gambling, but in my view is does. Just look at the Lottery. The product doesn’t exist, then advertising comes in and within three weeks two-thirds of the adult population have had a go.“
The Methodist Church said there were already 370,000 problem gamblers. The new casinos, along with the increasing popularity of online gambling and the general normalisation of gambling, could result in many more people developing a serious gambling addiction.
Lt Col Royston Bartlett, The Salvation Army’s communications secretary, said: „As more people are exposed to these adverts they may be more likely to gamble. We fear this could lead to an increase in problem gambling and needs to be closely monitored.“
Ministers unveiled measures to protect online gamblers — the big growth area for betting — from exploitation by operators from poorly-regulated countries outside Europe.
The aim is to close from Sept 1 a loophole that allows gambling websites run from outside the European Economic Area and Gibraltar to advertise without adhering to British rules.
They must prove their licensing regimes take sufficient steps to ensure online gambling is crime-free, conducted fairly, with children and the vulnerable protected.
Ministers are expected to argue that the intense competition from cities around the country to be the first British „Las Vegas“ demonstrates a demand for super-casinos and they plan to press ahead with identifying more locations.
The YouGov survey, conducted last week, found that only 30 per cent of those questioned believed the new casinos were a „good idea“, helping to regenerate run-down areas and bring additional tax revenues to the Treasury.
A majority of people in all areas of the country feared the new casinos would result in more problem gambling. Thirty-two per cent said they would worsen the quality of life around casinos.
The five-strong advisory panel led by Prof Stephen Crow includes experts in planning and regeneration. Under Government guidelines, the casino must address a need for regeneration in the chosen area, which is likely to have high levels of unemployment and social deprivation.
Ministers have insisted the panel is entirely independent and have denied any role in selecting today’s location.
But the owners of the Millennium Dome have warned they will have to cancel millions of pounds of investment if they are not successful. Their bid has been dogged by controversy over John Prescott’s links to Philip Anschutz, the tycoon, whose AEG owns the Dome.
The other locations bidding for the super-casino are Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.