Will the casino’s wheels turn against the punter?

Martini-sipping James Bond lookalikes stand at the roulette table, place their bets and despite the impossible odds, win thousands of pounds. It is an enduring image of casinos that the gaming industry has spent hours this week trying to dispel in front of a parliamentary select committee.

Ministers want to liberalise Britain’s gambling laws, making it easier for casinos to be opened with a wider range of games and unlimited jackpots. In March it published proposals that it said will “modernise” the industry with the effect that profits for the casino operators will jump by £500m along with a big boost for tax revenues for the exchequer.

For the first time, punters will be able to place bets with credit cards, without waiting 24 hours to become a member. As a result some of the estimated 400,000 people who fly over to Las Vegas each year are expected to stay in this country, where it will be relatively easy to find Vegas-style hotel-cum-casinos lined with slot machines.

But the select committee for culture, media and sport is concerned about the likelihood that gambling addiction will rise, plus the impact on jobs and the potential for an increase in crime.

It has been hearing submissions from industry, academics and groups concerned with the social welfare of gamblers that get hooked.

There are an estimated 350,000 addicted gamblers in the UK, according to Gamblers Anonymous. The group’s spokesman, Patrick, says little research has been conducted into why people gamble or the effects of this. He argues that until either the government or the industry pays for research, it should hold back from pushing through reforms.

“The government has realised that gambling is the fastest growing leisure activity and good luck to them. The tax it will receive will replace the declining tax …