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Gambling inquiry 'will lead to betting machines'

JUSTICE Minister Dermot Ahern is planning to go ahead with a Dail committee on gambling despite claims it is a "cover" for introducing controversial new betting machines.

The committee is set to consider all issues relating to the industry, including fixed odds betting terminals, which have been described as the 'crack cocaine of gambling'.

Labour Justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said he was sticking to his pledge not to take part in the committee unless the betting machine issue was excluded.

"As far as I'm concerned, it would be socially disastrous to permit young fellows to walk in off the street and spend their dole money on these turbo-charged one-arm bandits. I don't believe it should be allowed by law," he said.

The introduction of the machines was dealt a blow by a recent report into 'Gaming in Ireland', which described them as "incredibly addictive".

The UK's gambling commission found that one in nine people who played games such as touchscreen roulette were classified as addictive gamblers.

Mr Rabbitte, who has been asked again by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to sit on the proposed cross-party committee, said he believed it would would be used as a way to override the report's negative conclusions on the betting machines.

"I think Fianna Fail would have many people in their ranks who hold my view. I think they would be worried about being seen to legislate for that unless they can do it under the cover of an all-party committee," he said.

The foundation of the cross-party committee comes at a time when the horse and greyhound industries are looking for extra revenue through an increase in betting taxes.

The Government has not commented on past claims from Mr Rabbitte that Taoiseach Brian Cowen, as Finance Minister, had "given the nod" to bookmakers that the Government would allow the introduction of fixed odds betting machines in return for a tax increase.

Feckless

"It's a straight transfer of money from the poorest . . . to the wealthiest of our society. Transferring tax levied on the backs of feckless youths to the racing industry is not socially responsible," Mr Rabbitte said.

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But a spokesman for Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said he had stated in the Dail that he was opposed to the fixed odds betting machines. He rejected Mr Rabbitte's "pre-conceived" notions of what the outcome of the committee would be.

"The whole point of the committee is to come up with a roadmap for the future of the gaming sector, which is increasingly unregulated," he said.

The committee would be set up before Christmas, he added.

"Labour can either ignore it or decide to go on it, it's their call," he said.


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