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Friday, October 14, 2005

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Gambling bill clears Commons
The government's controversial gambling bill cleared the Commons despite a backbench rebellion by 22 Labour MPs. In a vote forced by disgruntled backbenchers, the bill was given a third reading by 236 votes to 38, government majority 198, and now goes to the Lords.

Backbench unrest centred on moves to set up a series of super-casinos and reserve powers which could be used in future to stop youngsters playing seaside slot machines. The government has already backed down over the number of regional super-casinos in the face of opposition from Labour MPs and churches - cutting them to eight. A Tory bid to halve that number failed.

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The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, said the bill would give Britain "the toughest, most comprehensive regulatory framework in the world, to protect the public interest, to prevent the exploitation of children". But Labour MP Win Griffiths said he would not support the bill and he hoped the Lords would amend it. He thought the pilot of mega-casinos was a mistake because "once the genie's out of the bottle it is difficult to put it back".

Amusement arcade owners were offered a concession by the government over concerns about how the gambling bill will affect their businesses. Culture minister Richard Caborn agreed to look again at reserve powers, which could prevent youngsters playing arcade slot machines. He announced a review which will report in time for Lords consideration of the bill. But the move failed to mollify critics on both the Tory and Labour backbenches.