Asked if he was a gambler, Professor Stephen Crow answered, with engaging candour, "I do buy raffle tickets at the church fete".
Professor Crow is the head of the government's casino advisory panel that will be responsible for recommending the location of the new casinos proposed under the Gaming Act. His "raffle ticket" comment sums up the attitude that most of us take, probably, towards gambling. We buy raffle and tombola tickets at church and hospital and sports club functions and we invest a very modest amount in national lottery tickets.
Some of us have "a flutter" on the Grand National or the Derby, but would not dream of backing racehorses on a daily or weekly basis, and we may well shove some coins into "fruit machines" in the social club or the pub or in a seafront arcade on a wet afternoon. We do not consider ourselves to be gamblers but we do engage in the occasional game of chance. We condone gaming as part of our lives and we enjoy it.
I have great respect for those church leaders who have spoken out against the further spread of casinos and a particular regard who those few who oppose all forms of gaming but I do not share their view. Without the raffles and the tombolas a lot of church roofs would be in still greater need of repair and hospital leagues of friends would be able to give far less support to cottage hospitals. Although John Major's National Lottery has been cannibalised by government to help pay for things that the Chancellor would have to fund it still gives a large some of money to sport and heritage and the arts that would otherwise not be spent. And even the commercial seaside bingo parlours and amusement arcades make a significant contribution to the tourist economy and to the all-weather leisure facilities that a lot of towns would otherwise lack.
What many are concerned about, clearly and rightly, is the advent of the Vegas-style "super-casino”. I may be in a minority but I happen to believe that Mr. John Prescott is "a pretty straighter kind of guy" than the present and tarnished Prime Minister and I do not believe that Prescott is likely to have sold the rights to a casino in the Millennium Dome for a pair of cowboy boots or even a freebie Blairite holiday on an American Ranch.
There is, though, the whiff of stinking fish about the Super Casino process to date and underlying that stench is the concern that our current well-run and well-regulated casino industry may fall victim to the interests of organised crime if the wrong people are allowed to infiltrate our domestic gambling industry. Big Money breeds Big Greed.
I already have a casino in my constituency. I have, since it opened, not received a single complaint about the way it is run, about its probity or about one case of compulsive gambling leading to personal ruin that it has generated. If the same company, or another of those reputably operating in our native business as a member of the British Casino Association wishes to open up a further modest facility and, in so doing, generates funds that will perhaps provide much needed sports facilities for the East Kent coastal strip that I can see no well-founded objection to that happening.
That, though, is a far cry from the 50,000 square feet of gaming hall and the 1,250 slot-machine "Pleasure Dome" that this government has effectively invited the large American operators seek to inflict upon this country. During the passage of the relevant legislation the Opposition managed to secure a dramatic reduction in the number of proposed new gaming outlets and in the scale of those new businesses. It may not be within the remit of Professor Crow and his Casino Advisory Panel but it would be good if, so far a the super-casino policy is concerned, they were able to persuade Secretary of State Tessa Jowell to think again before it is too late.