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British Jackpot Not in Cards

American casino companies that placed big bets on the British market may soon be re-evaluating their chances now that the British government announced a major change to proposed gaming legislation.

Casino operators have announced a flurry of large casino projects for the U.K., contingent on Parliament's deregulation of gambling. The government originally had set no limits on the number of Las Vegas-style regional casinos, opting to let market forces set the number; industry participants had estimated 20 to 40 such facilities.

Earlier this week, the government proposed an initial limit of eight regional casinos, in response to widespread opposition to the legislation from members of Parliament, religious groups and citizens concerned about the social impact of a sudden increase in flashy gambling venues with unlimited slot-machine jackpots. The government said an initial pilot phase would allow it to assess the effects of the new large casinos.

The legislation, known as the Gambling Bill, would dramatically liberalize gaming in the U.K., allowing people to walk off the street into huge new casinos and hit the slots and game tables right away. Under the 1968 Gaming Act, casinos operate as members-only clubs, and new members must wait 24 hours before they can gamble. Each club can have only eight slot machines, with 50 pence (93 U.S. cents) as maximum stakes and prizes up to 2,000 pounds (U.S. $3,706). There were 126 of these casinos in England, Scotland and Wales as of March 2003, according to the government.

Observers note that details of the Gambling Bill remain subject to revision, as the legislation must now pass through a committee of lawmakers before going to the House of Lords early next year. Adding to the uncertainty, a government spokesman said the length of the initial pilot phase has yet to be determined.

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