The Spectator

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The argument against the liberalisation of gambling isn’t a moral one

You can’t please some people. The Daily Mail has spent the Blair years complaining about the nanny state. But when the government finally comes up with a measure to add to the gaiety of the nation, the Gambling Bill, the Mail suddenly turns nanny itself. ‘Gambling with our futures,’ it whined last week. ‘Trashy glitter and the lure of easy money to exploit the vulnerable …that Labour is encouraging super-casinos in every town would horrify the fathers of socialism.’

Actually, we suspect that to some extent the fathers of socialism may well have been in sympathy with the Gambling Bill, which seeks to correct the injustice of having one law on gambling for the rich and another for everyone else and to remove silly restrictions on casinos. At the moment casinos are limited to towns of over 125,000 and must be run as private clubs, requiring visitors to give 24 hours’ notice of their desire to gamble.

Objectors to the Gambling Bill paint a grim picture of C1s and C2s hooked on gaming machines while the wife and kids go hungry. Yet how many of these great social improvers were campaigning 30 years ago for the closure of the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square, where Lord Lucan and his chums sat up to the small hours frittering away their inheritances?

The idea of wealthy buffoons ruining themselves at the baccarat table tends to be seen as a bit of a laugh. There was a time when the gaming table was even seen as a place of sophistication and style: the original James Bond film, Dr No, begins with Bond at the roulette table. Yet put a hooded 19-year-old with estuary English behind a one-armed bandit in a small-town shopping arcade and suddenly we have a serious social problem.

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