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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Contemptuous? You bet!

Observer gossip columnist Nick Cohen has a grudge against the gaming industry. Plans to turn the Millennium Dome into a giant casino have tickled him as a source of rich political symbolism. I’m just glad someone has found a use for the bloody thing, which has been idling down the river for as long as I’ve worked in Beckton. Four years is a long time to feel an obligation to argue in Defence of the Dome ; if I have to say ‘crap content, great architecture’ to one more person I’ll smash up my Dome memorabilia collection. Or boycott the beautiful tube stations surrounding it.


Nostalgic for the old days when religious killjoys ran the Labour Party – OK, when a different sort of religious killjoys ran the Labour Party – Cohen treats the current relaxation of gambling laws as yet another example of New Labour’s capitulation to big business.


And maybe it is. But what’s missing from his analysis is any recognition of the way casinos have entered the UK urban regeneration mindset as a panacea to deprivation, based on a superficial reading of similar trends in the US. A trip to Shreveport or Detroit’s Greektown will show the rather limited impact of such institutions on their immediate environs. Yet schemes
to regenerate Blackpool or the 21-year plan for the Thames Gateway South East hint that casinos can play positive role. For regeneration planners, ‘casino’ has become yet another empty mantra to chant.


New Labour proposals on gambling do not stop at a formal liberalisation of the law. They also include bringing in greater intervention from the counselling industry, to step in and police the ‘problem gambler’. Does that include me? I’m not big on US-style casinos, as the noise from fruit machines does my head in, but I do like jai alai or a dogs night. The net result of these outings is that I’ve yet to break even overall, but the main point of doing these things is the social event. (Something missing from Old Nick’s account: maybe he has no mates.) In his pious world, fools and their money are soon parted. But if ordinary people can’t be trusted to have a flutter now and then, you might as well give up on us altogether. ‘Without prejudice’? Don’t bet on it.

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