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Why Osborne Should Gamble on Growth

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Cities that rely on public sector employment are falling behind. Monday's report by the Centre for Cities think-tank told us what every politician, civil servant and business already knows: If Britain is to drag itself out of the economic gloom, it will be the private sector that has to lead that recovery.

George Osborne is acutely aware of this as his growth strategy comes under intense and relentless scrutiny.

His Treasury team is looking to every sector of British business to see how they can contribute to the growth agenda. At the moment it is difficult to see where that drive is going to come from.

But one area that is ready and able to play its part is the casino industry. An Economic Impact Assessment for the National Casino Industry Forum (NCiF) recently forecast that modest reforms to gambling laws could generate over 4,000-5,000 new jobs and £70-80 million in additional taxes.

These are not the sort of sweeping reforms that caused the media frenzy we saw in 2005 that resulted in Labour ditching its plans for regional casinos. They are modest changes that would modernise the industry and free it to create jobs.

The first reform ties perfectly with David Cameron's insistence at last week's PMQs that "we are all for localism". At the moment casinos are only allowed in certain areas of the country which are based on out-of-date population sizes. If the prime minister genuinely believes in localism, surely it should be for a local council to decide if it wants a casino? So if a licence isn't being used in a permitted area, the operator should be able to move it to an area that wants a casino. Crucially this would not increase the number of casinos allowed in the UK. We are not asking for a free-for-all here. But it is crazy to cluster 186 casino in just 53 areas.

The second change would be to create a level playing field. Different casinos offer different numbers of machines depending upon which act they were built under. This arbitrary distinction makes some casinos much less attractive than others. We would like to see the same rules apply across the board. This would prevent customer confusion and make it clear what to expect from a UK casino.

Another key reform would be to recognise that casinos operate in the Internet age. You can play virtual card and roulette games at home, in the office, even on your I-Phone at church if you want to. The only place you can't play them? In a casino. This is frankly bizarre given that a government-commissioned review recognised that casinos are the safest place to enjoy gambling.

Given that casinos are the safest place to play, it doesn't make sense that stakes in a Mayfair casino are now the same as those in a seafront arcade in Brighton or Bournemouth. We would like to see the government review this.

These changes would allow modest, organic growth and development of an industry which the government recognised just last week as an important contributor to Britain's tourism industry.
It is important to stress that we are not trying to re-open the argument over so-called "super-casinos." They are no longer on the agenda. The public didn't want them. We are a service industry and we listen to our customers.

These changes would create a variety of jobs in construction, casino staff and local suppliers as well as boosting local and central tax revenues. A typical provincial casino typically pays around £750,000 a year in gaming duty, Corporation Tax, VAT, employee taxes and amusement machine licence duty.

And we are not talking minimum wage McJobs here either. Staff are paid good wages with inspectors in London earning around £29,000 and managers over £100,000. And workers are given on-the-job training to help them build their careers.

So if the Chancellor wants to boost growth, we are ready to invest in sensible, modest reforms of casinos. These businesses can be part of the government's growth agenda both domestically and through a real contribution to the tourist market. It would enable us to create thousands of jobs and provide a welcome boost to local economies as well as improving customer choice and letting people gamble in the safest, most regulated environment.