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CR78-p26-Interview BCA:SJC-Casino Review 22/3/09 00:53 Page 1
The end of March sees the departure of
Lady Penelope Cobham as chairman of
the British Casino Association (BCA). It
also marks the end of the road for the
BCA, which ceases trading at the same
time. Hugh Sorrill talked to Lady
Cobham about how she views the last
nine turbulent years of the UK industry.
Look back in resignation
swansong eration bill or a social policy bill; the two ideas sit rather uncom- been the sum of its parts - one of the reasons for having an inde-
INTERVIEW fortably together. And we had had some successes in the early pendent chairman and secretariat is so that it could do what
stages of the process, even before the Bill, in changing some of the membership wanted.”
hortly after Lady Penelope Cobham began work as the regulations, such as allowing live music within casinos and What the membership wants now, apparently, is an end to
chairman of the British Casino Association in Decem- getting the 48-hour rule amended.” the BCA, which has recently suffered two high profile depar-
ber 1999, it was announced that there would be a She continued: “I think the whole sector didn’t pause to tures, the Rank Group and Gala Coral, the former for opera-
major review of gambling in the UK. Rather than think about alternatives to this brave new world being tional reasons - it needed to save money - the latter for
having time to get her feet wet in the industry, she heavily promoted to Number 10 by US and South African philosophical reasons: executive chairman Neil Goulden
was thrown into the deep end. companies in particular. Huge investment was promised as a wanted one organisation to speak for the whole industry. Last
Reform had been on the cards: “I was brought in to enable consequence of massive liberalisation, but I believe that December COGA, the Confederation of Gambling Associa-
the industry to look forward to a review of the 1968 Act and the some of the large overseas companies didn’t understand the tions, was formed as an umbrella organisation for all the
introduction of a new Bill,” said Cobham. “It all started very detrimental effect their figures were having on the debate. leading trade organisations.
soon - just eight days after I took up my role.” Yes, the planning gain and extra employment looked fantas- When Lady Cobham leaves to become chairman of VisitEng-
Not all of the recommendations made by free-market econ- tic, but many MPs and Gordon Brown were uncomfortable land, the BCA itself will cease to exist in its current form at least
omist Sir Alan Budd in his review made it to the subsequent that the price could be a massive increase in gambling. And - and it is unwilling yet to say what will happen, even so close to
Gambling Bill, a document that nevertheless alarmed many, the hype turned out to be the elephant in the room, driving its official demise.
even some inside the UK casino industry for the potentially increasing hysteria in the press, which accused the govern- “I believe that all casinos in the UK should belong to one asso-
large number of “super-casinos” it would have allowed. Press ment of going against its historic principles.” ciation and at the least there will always be a need for a body to
and pressure groups did much to change the proposals, includ- The high expectations among many operators had a dra- address casino industry issues only,” said Cobham. “It would deal
ing restricting numbers of the new-style casinos and adding a matic effect on the UK casino industry: Genting bought out with technical and compliance matters, such as the available-to-
trial period. When the general election was announced in 2005, Stanley Leisure, Harrah’s bought London Clubs International, play rules currently being discussed. I think all casinos, includ-
leaving just days for existing bills to complete their way Isle of Capri invested in a massive property in Coventry and the ing the smaller ones, are looking for a forum at that level. This
through Parliament or fail, the Conservative opposition Rank Group offloaded everything except its gaming interests, being a regulated industry, casinos must realise that the govern-
managed to alter the terms even further bringing the number all on the promise of a liberalised but well-regulated gaming ment is an important consideration in operations and our polit-
of super-casinos down to one - and even that was shelved after industry. All have been extremely disappointed. ical system is such that ministers want to talk to as few
Gordon Brown became Prime Minister. The view from across Cobham is happy though that she and the BCA did as much representatives as possible: they do not have time to talk to indi-
the gaming industry is that the Gambling Act is deeply flawed. as possible: “Sometimes it is easy to let the best be the enemy of vidual companies or to sort through the mixed messages.
It all started with a lot of hope, however. the good. I have a clear conscience that I talked to members However, there are other matters, such as Research, Education
“My first task was to help the casino industry realise that it collectively and individually regularly and often and that I and Training [RET], which includes responsible gaming, that can
would have to act as one, initially with the Budd committee asked them whether they were still in favour of encouraging be dealt with at a pan-industry level, through COGA for example.”
then through the review and parliamentary stages,” said the Bill to become law - they were, even though there were Whatever structure emerges, there will be plenty of chal-
Cobham. “I like to think that it was an achievement to get the some who were equivocal in the final stages. There were advan- lenges and opportunities to be faced: “I think it all depends on
key leaders of the casino industry working together.” tages in proceeding to enactment but there are challenges whether trading can stabilise and investors don’t lose their
It is true that casino operators, the largest ones at any rate, now. For example, the Gambling Commission is a much larger nerve and stay with the sector,” said Cobham. “There will be a
saw advantages to co-operation but the result was still a Gam- organisation than previously envisaged and the philosophy of new government within 18 months of whatever colour and
bling Act that lacks coherence, especially where it touches on ‘light touch’ regulation doesn’t appear to be quite the reality. there is a great opportunity as the Olympic Games approach.
the future of the casino industry. There is work still to do on both sides.” We need our casinos to be world class and out there promoting
“The government never quite worked out if it was a regen- She continued: “In the end, however, the BCA has only ever themselves as a great and entertaining experience.”
26 April 2009 • interview
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