Monday, February 25, 2008

Casinos, liberalism and localism

I'm in the process of catching up on Lib Dem blogs from the past week or so. I have spotted this from Adrian Sanders MP about casinos and cite it as another example of what I was going on about here about sticking to a consistent Liberal ethic.

Now, I should say on the subject of casinos that my personal views are a bit puritanical. I rarely gamble and feel it preys on the vulnerable. Despite my usual libertarian impulses I am uncomfortable about TV adverts encouraging people to have a flutter on sporting events. So on this issue at least, I am not quite the wacky libertarian, although equally I don't want to impose my personal prejudices on everyone else.

So I feel uncomfortable about Adrian Sanders simply criticising the government for allowing casinos. To me the liberal solution ought to be about decentralised decision-making. It should be up to local areas to determine their policies towards casinos and the like.

I certainly wouldn't advocate a super casino for Watford. Yet I can't see why councils in Torbay or Blackpool or wherever should be prevented from encouraging them if they feel that would help with local employment and regeneration.

It's not so much the fact that Adrian Sanders disapproves of casinos and gambling that I have a problem with. It's the uncritical acceptance that policy in this area should be top-down and centralised.


Jock Coats said...

Personally I don't think it is up to government to prevent people throwing their money away. The big thing about the super-casino idea that irked me and I found extremely illiberal, in the economic sense, was that it was going to be a state created and protected monopoly. They were only going to allow one super-casino. They were handing super-normal profits to some American gambling tycoon. Of course it should be down to local authorities to decide whether they want casinos on their patch and if so what size and how many. But to herald that new enlightened policy by creating a protected monopoly was just wrong on so many levels!

Adrian Sanders said...

The real problem with this debate is the word casino. The licences on offer to local authorities who have bid for them are nothing more than glorified betting shops that might offer a 106 agreement in return for the licence.

These betting shops will be filled with video roulette machines made permissable under the new Gambling Act, rather than real roulette wheels and card tables. The punters won't be dressed in dinner jackets and ball gowns having just stepped out of their Aston Martins. This is low roller land with addictive machines that leave nothing to chance.

It is licence not liberty that lies behind the Gambling Act of 2005 and Liberals shouldn't confuse one for the other.

Don't kid yourselves that this has anything to do with political inconsistency on our part as liberals. It has everything to do with the bankcruptcy of a Labour Government that looks to gambling to fill the tax void, and to hell with the social consequences, while desperate under-funded and powerless local authorities prostitute themseves for the right to issue a licence.