The greatest gamble

Congratulations to the city of Manchester, who this week won the first license to build a Vegas-style super-casino in the UK. The Gambling Act 2005 at first proposed the creation of up to 40 of these super-casinos. This number was cut to eight and then to one – after heavy opposition from pretty much everyone except fellow treasury ministers and, naturally, the businesses wanting (and lobbying) to build them. This kind of begs the question: who really wants them? I must have been out of the country when people were marching on Downing Street enraged at the current gambling restrictions. Not that public opinion has ever troubled government policy in the past, so I guess it won't start now.

The fact that they are building one at all is troubling as the door will now be prised (ahem) open for future exploitation. They have signalled their intentions with the remaining 39 steps to ruin waiting in the wings.

This is the government, incidentally, who has plundered the coffers of the National Lottery to fund the Olympic games (£1.5b) and the National Health Service. I must have also been out of the country when the NHS was reclassified from "public service" to a "good cause".

Now I'm not an economist and admittedly the only gambling I experience is the Boxing Day ritual at Wetherby Races, where I usually spend the afternoon throwing £1 bets on all horses with daft names. As I fully intend to loose all £7 in the afternoon I'm not contacting Gamblers Anonymous just yet. But I do know one thing: people who take your bets are doing so to make themselves lots of money. It's kind of fundamental part of business, you have to take more than you spend, or you're out of the game. Who will they be taking from? The people who need the money most – the bewitched working classes goaded into winning their way out of poverty.

The politicians claim that the casinos will "regenerate the region" with jobs and prospects. Huh? Call me old fashioned, but I always thought that regeneration meant providing a stable micro-economy using things like factories that actually make something, not some top down imposition that siphons off the honey-pot to fund the boardroom bonuses or plug the black tax holes. It just doesn't make sense to me.

Mark Oaten on last week's Question Time was the only panel member who attempted to defend these super-casinos by claiming that the state shouldn't interfere with people lives, which is tactical fence-sitting of insidious proportions. It's also a load of crap. This is precisely why we have a state – to protect the vulnerable from financial exploitation. I'd usually be the first to cry nanny-state, but with some things the state has a clear mandate to intervene. For the same reason that we legislate against hand guns, discrimination, violence and smoking (finally!), the state needs to recognise that its society must sometimes be persuaded to make the right choice. Do Labour have any moral values anymore or does everything now have a price tag?

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