No sooner has the Government extracted itself from one moral muddle – its less than consistent policy on tobacco sponsorship – than it seems headed for another one. This time, gambling.
It has zealously announced that Pronto!, a rapidly-repeating online lottery game played in pubs and devised by Lord Mancroft’s Inter Lotto, should be and will be banned. All very well, except that Pronto! is entirely within the law as it stands. Indeed, the Gaming Board – which officiates on these matters – has gone so far as to award it a licence and, if Inter Lotto’s marketing plan is on schedule, Pronto! will launch on Thursday.
This in itself is embarrassing for the Gaming Board which, as the government watchdog, is now called upon to invigilate on an enterprise it previously sanctioned. And for the Government itself, which will have to resort to the cumbersome and time-consuming expedient of passing new legislation through Parliament to get it banned.
Imagine the fun Mancroft will have lacerating the prospective legislation in the House of Lords. To begin with, he will publicly expose the inconsistency of the Gaming Board, which has blown first hot, then cold on Pronto! in a matter of months. He will then round on his favourite topic: unlevel playing fields. Why is it that, where gambling is concerned, every other organisation must play with the odds stacked against it, while the National Lottery and its operator Camelot apparently have carte blanche?
His hand will be strengthened – and his capacity for making mischief reinforced – by the disclosure in Marketing Week that Camelot is planning to launch daily draws in addition to its two weekly events. Are these frequent Camelot draws not just as harmful to our moral welfare as the Inter Lotto ones the Government has condemned? Would it not, therefore, be the utmost hypocrisy for the Government to support the Camelot proposal?
Up to a point such criticism would be justified. Any government’s attitude to legalised vice is, to say the least, riddled with ambivalence. Just as politicians have always been addicted to the huge tax revenues derived from tobacco consumption, so now they are dependent on the National Lottery to provide funding for various good causes (which might otherwise make a nasty dent in public finances). Such considerations would, for example, account for the otherwise extraordinary rapprochement between Camelot and Government which has taken place since the public acrimony of the Fat Cats scandal.
But the Government has two fig leaves ready to hand. It could support a daily Lottery draw and deflect the charge of double standards by drawing a fine distinction between the Inter Lotto and the Camelot propositions. One involves gambling in alcohol licensed premises, the other does not. Or more simply and brutally, it could put pressure on Oflot, the Lottery regulator, to quash the Camelot proposal.
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