Fears for amusement arcades

SEASIDE amusement arcades are today fearing the death knell after experts warned that a shake-up of the gambling laws could see hundreds close.

EXCLUSIVE

By RICHARD CORNWELL

Felixstowe editor

richard.cornwell@eveningstar.co.uk>

SEASIDE amusement arcades are today fearing the death knell after experts warned that a shake-up of the gambling laws could see hundreds close.

Felixstowe funfair boss and arcade owner Charlie Manning said the future for all resort arcades was now uncertain – and many could suffer the same fate as the amusement parks which have been lost because of other attractions.

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He said the increase in casinos and internet gambling, with the attraction of different thrills and bigger prizes, would hit traditional arcades hard.

The draft Gambling Bill, currently at committee stage, allows for a big rise in casinos – ironically, Felixstowe could end up with two.

Plans have been unveiled to transform the top floor of the Regal complex in Sea Road into a casino if the law allows, while the owner of the Palace bingo hall and cinema in the town centre also has a long term plan for a hotel and casino.

Mr Manning, whose family have run the funfair and arcades in Sea Road for more than 50 years, said: "Amusement arcades are facing a very difficult future.

"Our amusement park has suffered because of the growth of inland theme parks and now we are in danger of seeing a similar thing happen to the arcade with the growth of easier and different forms of gambling.

"Quite simply, times change and we are being overtaken. Arcades started at the seaside and are a very minor part of gambling – which many will see as a good thing – but if they were lost it would be a big loss for the traditional fun of a visit to the seaside."

Mr Manning said gambling by internet, TV and mobile phones, plus machines in some places with pay-outs of up to £2,500, meant serious gamblers no longer wanted to play for the fun of winning pennies.

"If we have casinos in Felixstowe they could soak up everything and that is a big concern," he added.

A report from the Henley Centre, a leading marketing consultancy, has predicted that number of casinos will almost double to 241 if the new laws proceed.

The changes would lead to many arcades closing but also increase the number of problem gamblers – currently around 400,000 in the UK.

The report claims the amount spent on betting and gaming in the UK will rise from a £8.5 billion a year to £10.6bn by 2010.

However, it warns that while remote betting and casinos will grow by around £2.1 billion, there will be a £1 billion reduction in traditional gambling.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We believe local businesses will benefit from the introduction of more casinos.

"The number of problem gamblers is relatively low and we will be encouraging the gambling industry to ensure it remains that way."

n What do you think – should gambling be made easier? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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