Two senior Labour figures have admitted that their party got it badly wrong in government when it liberalised gambling laws.
The party’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman admitted that it was a “mistake” and has ruined people’s lives. Meanwhile former Home Secretary David Blunkett said he had never supported the relaxation of gambling laws.
Speaking about the clustering of betting shops in an interview with Channel 4’s Dispatches programme Ms Harman said; “If we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have allowed this. It’s not just ruining the high street, it’s ruining people’s lives.” She told the programme she had received heartrending letters, emails and calls saying; “Please do something about this. It’s ruined my family, it’s really dangerous and the problem is it’s getting worse and that’s why we need the law to be changed so that something can be done about it.” She concluded: “Well, I think we were wrong, we have made a mistake and this result is the consequence and we need to do something about it.”
“I’ve always been a social conservative”, Mr Blunkett noted. “If the present government tightened up on all this, it would be a good thing.” He added: “Anything that lets people do activities that they wouldn’t normally engage in – and can’t verify the age – is bad, and the danger is that it will lead to misery for a lot of people.” It has been shown that bookmakers make more than £1 billion a year profit from casino-style fixed odds betting machines.
Critics say the machines – which are so addictive that they have been branded the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling – enable people to build up enormous debts. Currently bookmakers are only allowed to install four of the controversial machines. But last month a committee of MPs argued that betting shops should be allowed to install more high-stake gambling machines.
They also said that councils should be given greater discretion over the location of casinos. John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Gambling is now widely accepted in the UK as a legitimate entertainment activity.”