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p14 nick hawkins 27/10/08 09:17 Page 34
Tough times need a
light touch
Former UK Shadow Gambling Minister Nick Hawkins sorts the wheat
from the chaff in his bi-monthly column…
write this in the depressing circumstances of results announced have been quite good, amidst the
stock markets apparently in free fall round the doom and gloom – though there is a perception that
world – I hope by the time readers are reading it, 2009 will definitely be much worse, even for those for
matters may have stabilised somewhat, but I whom 2008 has been OK – and it is pretty difficult to
begin with a newsletter summary of a report gainsay that, having listened to news reports which
headlined “Recession will negatively impact land- every day could make one feel suicidal on the way in
based gaming”… – as the old catch-phrase had it, a to work!
‘statement of the bleeding obvious’, if ever there was My instinctive feeling is that in these tougher times
one, surely! there will be a real premium on those who can
Times are very tough – marginal businesses will go innovate at modest cost.
to the wall. To take just one example, even before the If an organisation can produce new products or
latest crisis, in excess of 30 pubs a week around the services in our field, which punters feel give them
UK, were closing – the smoking ban and cheap something, new, exciting, different, and not too costly,
supermarket booze among the causes – that trend is and above all simple to understand and play, without
Nick Hawkins is a Barrister sadly likely to get worse. massive capital expenditure, then that must be a
specialising in Gambling and We appear (as of, again, the week of writing), to be winning formula.
Leisure law. In his 13 years in an economic war with Iceland. For anyone of my The Leisure Pound is less likely to be spent on
in Parliament previously, he age or older, memories of “the cod war”…! Who anything to which the punter’s reaction is “same old,
held roles in Government and would have predicted that, even a month ago?! same old”.
Opposition, including Mind you, with all the stories that much of the There is a challenge for Government and
Shadow Solicitor-General money flowing through Iceland was really Russian in regulators not to add to the industry’s burdens in
and Shadow Sports Minister. origin, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that tough times – regulation must really be “light touch”,
He is now Legal Director for peculiar things have occurred… and the Government must be clear that unless it
a gaming company. One of the results of a major worldwide economic helps the industry, jobs will be lost as businesses go
crisis is that Governments are understandably so under. I worry that there seems so much hostility in
busy dealing with the implosion of banks, that other Government for the licensed trade. We once had
issues drop way down the pecking order. Prime Ministers who understood that “the pub is the
In any industry, those at a senior level are focussed hub” of so much community life, in villages, small
on their issues for their business, and sometimes find towns, suburbs and the like, and that its not all about
it hard to accept that, to politicians and civil servants, drunken yobs in City Centres – but then this is the
their industry may not count for a lot. same bunch who have decimated Post Offices by
When the entire banking system appears to be in their policies which actively reduced “footfall” by
meltdown, however, it is perhaps realistic to reflect stopping people getting services via the Post Office –
that helping the gambling industry, or even leisure it became a self-fulfilling, self-destructing policy. They
more generally, is not going to be high up any may do the same to pubs by their series of measures
Government’s agenda. which are a “law of only half-intended consequences”
There will therefore have to be a lot of focus on and the ‘health freaks’ of the Nanny State who hold
“self-help”, by the industry, as much as possible, for a sway over Number 10 and much policy development
prolonged period, I suspect. seem unable to understand the sense of “all things in
What is certain is that the “Leisure Pound” will be moderation”.
under pressure – if unemployment rises substantially, I do hope that a Government which has
as predicted, there are fewer punters with disposable reintroduced Nationalisation on an unprecedented
cash. scale will not go down also as the “new Puritans”, but
However, some groups have organised their I fear that the son of the Manse in the top job
businesses in such a way that recent Stock Exchange wouldn’t mind too much if he did…
14 NOVEMBER 2008
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