Gambling Bill - Saturday 12th of March 2005

Simon Rash wants to stay anonymous. That is not his real name. He lives in Swindon with his third wife and runs his own gardening business. Simon started gambling when he was eight-years-old.

"It creeps up very slowly. At the beginning it was good fun and a great way of life. I wanted to be James Bond with his millionaire life style".

The Gambling Bill
Casinos are restricted to certain towns or cities
Gamblers must become members at least 24 hours before attending.
Live music is not allowed in casinos under the current law
Casinos open 24 hours
Unlimited jackpots in larger casinos
Immediate access for public, no 24-hour joining period
Compulsory age checks by gambling websites
Casinos will be able to advertise
Inviting, permitting or causing a child to gamble will be a new criminal offence
New Gambling Commission - to ensure gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, protect children from being exploited by gambling, and prevent gambling being a source of crime

And for the next 20 years his life was spent in casinos, at the bookies and on the fruit machines.

But the price was extremely high.

Simon said: "I stopped seeing my family, I lost touch with my religion- and when I got married it ended in divorce due to gambling".

It all ended with a police record for stealing. When Simon went to stay with his parents in Oxford he stole from them.

Simon continued: "My dad could not leave the house unless I had left first.

"I would steal his money. In the end I got his bankers card and took ??1500 from his account".

Widespread concern

Critics of the new gambling bill are concerned they will be many more like Simon in the future.

At the moment there are 137 casinos in the country, five of them located in the West.

They cannot advertise, run more than 10 machines, or accept off the street custom.

You have to be a member for 24 hours before gambling. But the government's latest bill means all this could change.

And on the whole those in the industry welcomes this.

John Wood is the manager of Grosvenor's Casino in Bristol.

Mr Wood said: "We have been regulated for so many years. We cannot advertise where we are and customers cannot drop in for the evening unless they are members."

Restrictions removed

But under the new bill some things should get easier for Grosvenor's Casino.

It will remove membership restrictions, create Las Vegas style super-casinos, and customers will be able to bet higher stakes.

So while the government may be loosening the laws inside the casino, it is tightening them up outside.

In the future fast food restaurants and taxi offices will not be allowed to run fruit machines, in order to protect children.

Children at risk?

Britain is the only developed country that allows children to gamble and Jonathan Lomax from the Salvation Army wants this to change.

Mr Lomax said: "Currently children of any ages can win up to ??5.

"It is time to say children and gambling do not mix. Let us take children away from fruit machines".

So how would this affect the piers by the seafront?

Rod Brennar owns Weston Pier and defends the fact children of any age can play on the machines.

Mr Brennar said: "Surely it is better for children to learn about gambling in a safe environment with their parents rather than discovering it on their own".

The government has no plans to strip the seaside of its slot machines.

But they are holding firm on the Bill's main proposals. Not good news for Simon Rash who has not placed a bet for four years.

But will it make it harder for people like Simon to stay that way?

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