I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The object of this Bill is to re-enact, with amendments, the laws which prohibit gaming and lotteries while exempting from this prohibition, on certain conditions which are set out in the Bill, the holding of small lotteries for charitable purposes and gaming for small stakes at travelling shows and carnivals and also, in certain circumstances, in amusement halls and fun-fairs. And the opportunity has been taken to clarify the law, much of which is a relic of antiquity, and to repeal a score or more of the statutes in which it is contained.
The principle upon which we have proceeded is that gaming is not wrong in itself, but that public gaming needs to be severely restricted to prevent fraud and excess. We feel, however, that the prohibition should stop short of a prohibition of minor forms of gaming and the holding of small lotteries for charitable purposes which have long been sanctioned by public opinion. Accordingly it is proposed to authorise gaming for small stakes at travelling shows, carnivals and fun-fairs by which I mean amusement halls providing a variety of attractions of the type that are to be found at many holiday and seaside resorts.
Gaming and lotteries are more open to abuses and to the danger of fraud than betting on horses and dogs, which has, moreover, this to recommend it that it helps to support the horse and dog breeding industries, and gaming and lotteries are, therefore, activities which, in our view, are rather to be tolerated than favoured. We are not kill-joys and we recognise that the law as it stands is a bad example of class legislation since, like the prohibition of off the course betting which was abolished in 1926, it was designed to deny to the working classes facilities for recreation and amusement that were readily available to the well-to-do. However, we do not want to see rash or foolish persons ruin themselves and their families by excessive gambling or to create a powerful vested interest in the form of professional gamblers and racketeers such as those whose activities have caused the public authorities so much trouble in other parts of the world.
The Bill is in five parts, the first of which need not detain us at this stage as it is concerned merely with definitions and repeals. Gaming is dealt with in Parts II and III of the Bill. Part IV deals with lotteries and Part V is concerned with enforcement, evidence and penalties.
Under Part II of the Bill gaming, which is defined in the first part as "playing a game for stakes hazarded by the player", is declared to be unlawful "in which by reason of the nature of the game, the chances of all the players, including the banker, are not equal or in which a toll is levied on the stakes or for the right to take part in which any charge is made". However, it is not the players but the persons who promote or provide facilities for unlawful gaming that we want to get after and it is they alone who will be committing an offence. This in effect is the position under existing law.
Owing to the difficulties that have been experienced in proving, in the case of particular games, that the chances of all the players, including the banker, are not equal, the definition of unlawful games in the Gaming Act, 1845, has been widened so as to include gaming... "in which a toll is levied on the stakes or for the right to take part in which any charge is made". The new definition will, it is felt, bring within its ambit all gambling games (such as pongo) irrespective of whether they are games of skill or chance, and will render the promoters liable to prosecution. As the purpose of the Bill is to control what might be described as the commercial promotion of gaming, sub-section (2) of Section 4 exempts what may be described as "private" gaming. Thus, the playing of a game for money in a club or at a whist drive will not be unlawful where the provisions of the sub-section are fulfilled.
Before leaving the definition sections I would draw attention to the definition of "slot-machines" in Section 9. It is the intention that the section will provide for a complete prohibition on coin-operated machines which, when successfully operated, automatically deliver a prize of greater value than the stake. Slot-machines are really a lottery device. In playing the machines one inserts a coin in a slot and receives two or more coins or the equivalent in the form of a token or a prize if one succeeds in winning. These machines usually return twothirds of the money taken in, but they can be rigged to return only one-third or less. To put it another way, the owner normally gets 1d. for every 3d. staked and may get 2d. or more.
Section 8, which prohibits gaming on licensed premises, and Section 10 which provides penalties for cheating, are simply restating existing law. It is intended, however, that where there is only one charge in respect of the day on which the game is played the charge will not constitute part of the stakes hazarded by the player and in consequence playing of games such as whist or rings or darts, in which there are no side-stakes, but in which the player hazards his entry fee in a competition to win a prize will not come within the definition of gaming and will not be prohibited on licensed premises. This is simply a case of removing the technical offence which is at present committed by the operation of some of these harmless games in public houses, licensed hotels and clubs.
I should now like to explain how the Bill proposes to deal with the public promotion of games of chance. As I mentioned earlier, the Government's attitude is that gaming, whether in the form of wagering, games of chance or lotteries, is not bad in itself but that excessive gaming brings definite evils in its train. So long as gaming is carried on in moderation under conditions which preclude fraud, we see nothing wrong with it. In consequence, we are providing, in Section 6, that games of chance may be promoted without a licence at circuses and travelling shows, in any one place for a period of one week in every three months, where gaming is not the main activity of the show and the stake is not more than 6d. a time. It may be that a 6d. stake is too high and that it ought to be reduced. As to this I have an open mind but I am satisfied that to permit gaming for stakes in excess of 6d. a time might lead to the loss of considerable sums. It has in fact been suggested to me by persons engaged in the amusement business that the stake should be limited to a 3d. piece.
Gaming without a licence is to be allowed at carnivals, bazaars, sports meetings, etc., where gaming is not the main activity and where the organisers get no personal profit. But, of course, the prescribed conditions with respect to the age of the players and the size of the stakes will have to be observed.
I come now to Part III of the Bill which provides for the commercial promotion of games of chance in amusement arcades and fun-fairs during the holiday season. We have some misgivings about making provision for anything but occasional gaming but, again, having regard to the fact that there is a public demand at tourist resorts during the holiday season for amusements of one kind or another — particularly if the weather happens to be wet—and that the force of public opinion has not been behind the prohibition of gaming of the type in question at holiday resorts, we think that it would be better to regulate what is happening rather than to persist in the effort to enforce a law that cannot be enforced unless it has public opinion behind it. As a precaution against the establishment of chains of gaming houses, under the guise of amusement arcades, the Bill provides several safeguards, in particular that premises can only be licensed for part of the year (the holiday season) after the local authority—the urban council, borough council, etc., as the case may be— passes a resolution in favour of the establishment of such premises.
We feel that it is a wise precaution to place responsibility on the local authority for having this kind of gaming in their town and that the people of a town, through their elected representatives, should have the right to say whether gaming saloons should or should not be allowed to open. We do not want the local inhabitants to be forced to have gaming saloons whether they want them or not. Furthermore, when a local authority has passed a resolution adopting this part of the Bill it will have the right of being heard in court in support of or against particular applications. The police also will have a right of audience in court and may give evidence as to the character of the applicant and suitability of the premises from the point of view of police supervision.
Section 14 of the Bill indicates the various conditions which the District Court may attach to the grant of a certificate and Section 19 requires the licensee to display a notice in a conspicuous position near the entrance of his premises setting out the conditions of the licence.
Part IV of the Bill is concerned with lotteries. Sections 22 and 23 of the Bill authorise the holding of private lotteries and lotteries at carnivals, without restriction, provided that the conditions specified in the sections are fulfilled. Our idea here is that lotteries of this type are normally on such a small scale that no specific restrictions are needed. We recognise, however, that there is a public demand that will not be denied for lotteries on a somewhat larger scale for charitable purposes and the provision we have made is that such lotteries may be held only under a police permit in the case of an occasional lottery and under licence from the District Court in the case of periodic lotteries. The general conditions which are to govern the holding of these lotteries are that they shall comply with the conditions specified in Sections 25 and 26 of the Bill, chief amongst which are the conditions that the prize fund shall not exceed the sum of £300 and that the permit or licence holder shall derive no personal benefit from the lotteries. We have fixed the prize fund at a maximum of £300 with the deliberate purpose of excluding professionals from the promotion of lotteries and keeping expenses down to a minimum.
We recognise that the promoters of such lotteries have to rely wholly or chiefly on voluntary workers and this, we think, is as it should be. The promotion of a lottery on a week-to-week basis with £300 in prizes is a formidable undertaking which will require very hard and unselfish work on the part of the promoting charity and to raise the prize fund above £300 or the allowance for expenses above 25 per cent. of the proceeds would take such lotteries out of the category of voluntary charitable work and into the realm of professional promotion. And this is something that ought, we feel, to be avoided.
The provisions of Section 26 have been drafted with regard to the situation that exists at present whereby a number of charities are promoting £300 weekly lotteries. Prior to 1953 the limit was £100 and some years before that £30. As you are aware these lotteries in aid of charities are illegal under existing law and their toleration extending back over 40 years has been on the basis that the organisers give their time and labour free. Unfortunately, at the £300 mark some charity promotions, in an endeavour to outpace rivals and to get in as much money as possible, have been paying clerical staffs, organisers, agents and collectors and it is obvious that, if the prize money were to be raised any higher, the increased sales of tickets necessitated could only be got by an increase in the number of collectors, etc., receiving payment for their services. Furthermore the number of lotteries which could operate on a countrywide scale would necessarily be few and the purposes for which they might be promoted would not necessarily be the most deserving. For instance, some sports organisations with thousands of members might create a virtual monopoly for themselves and in the process bring to an end the innumerable small parish charity promotions which fulfil such good purposes as helping the sick and the aged, relieving poverty and distress, advancing religion and education.
Another point which should be borne in mind is that while 25 per cent. of the gross proceeds for expenses is adequate in the case of lotteries promoted by unpaid voluntary workers (if there is an excess it goes to the charity, anyway) it is not sufficient when the promotion loses its parochial character and depends on paid agents, collectors, etc., etc. As it is, even at the £300 point, representations have already been made to me that some of the existing lotteries cannot carry on unless the percentage for expenses is raised to 40 per cent. or more and an examination of figures supplied shows that over £1 in every £2 10s. collected goes in expenses of one kind or another. I should like Deputies to consider carefully the implication of providing higher prizes and greater percentages of the proceeds for expenses. I am aware that Deputies are being asked for their support in that regard and I should like them to think twice before raising the matter.
In looking at the remaining provisions in Part IV of the Bill relating to lotteries Deputies will observe that there is a prohibition on advertising of any kind—another provision which emphasises their private nature and the intention that they should operate within local limits. Furthermore, tickets or prizes cannot be sent outside the State. There is no prohibition, however, on a charity outside the State from being a beneficiary of a lottery promoted and conducted wholly within the State.
Part V of the Bill, which relates to enforcement, evidence and penalties, does not call for any comment from me at this stage, save in relation to Section 34 which continues the existing provisions of the law that makes gaming or wagering contracts unenforceable. In my view, there is as much need to-day as there ever was to protect rash and inexperienced backers and those with whom gambling has become a passion from ruining themselves and, what is worse, from bringing ruin and misery upon their families. And I think it is a sound principle of public policy that layers, too, should be discouraged from taking unwarrantable risks. It will be within the knowledge of every Deputy in this House that, in certain circumstances and under certain conditions, the temptation to bet beyond one's means, is hard to resist. Indeed, the backer who plunges on the last race to recover his loses is a familiar figure to us all. If the present law is changed, nothing is more certain than that weak-minded persons, with gambling propensities, will become the prey of sharks and will be subjected to such inducements to bet beyond their means on credit, maybe after they have been plied with drink, that they will not be able to resist the temptation to do so.
I do not, of course, suggest that reputable bookmakers would countenance such malpractices still less that they would be guilty of them. Nor do I suggest that the immediate victims would be deserving of any greater measure of sympathy than ordinary humanity requires us to extend to those who are the slaves of a predominant passion. But I do ask you to have compassion on their families and to consider the husbands and wives of these people and their innocent children, on whom so much misery could be brought in this way. I know it could be argued that wagering contracts should be put on the same footing as other contracts but this, in my opinion, is to take a doctrinaire view of the case, without allowing for the circumstances which give these contracts their special character and provide the justification for the existing provision of the law. In this connection, I may remind you that the sale of liquor on credit, for consumption on the premises, has had to be prohibited for a somewhat similar reason and it is noteworthy that, even before there was an absolute prohibition on credit sales, the amounts due on foot of some such sales were declared by law to be irrecoverable. I would also draw the attention of Deputies to the fact that the joint committee on the Betting Act, 1926, and the law relating to the business of bookmaking reported against changing the law which makes betting debts irrecoverable. And as a family man appealing to other family men I ask you to leave the law as it is.
I have now concluded such observations as occur to me and it remains only to say that we are submitting this Bill as an honest attempt to create order out of the existing statutory chaos. We are only too conscious of the difficulty in legally defining gaming and distinguishing in practice between acts which violate the law and those that may be questionable but not illegal. We have done our best to overcome these difficulties having been assisted in our task, as I am glad to acknowledge, by the consideration which was given to this question by my predecessor when he was in office, and I hope that the House will see its way to approve our proposals.