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John Prescott and Philip Anschutz

John Simkin

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We now know why the Labour Party all of a sudden became very keen in 2003 to allow the building of 17 casinos, including “super casinos” (casinos with jackpot machines with unlimited stakes) in the UK. At the time, the Labour government was having great difficulty selling off the Millennium Dome. John Prescott stepped in to do a deal with American billionaire Philip Anschutz. This was a surprise as several businessmen had looked into the possibility of redeveloping the site but claimed it could not be turned into a profitable venture. Anschutz came to the same conclusion but calculated that it could become profitable if he could get permission to build a super-casino next to the proposed sports and entertainment arena.

However, John Prescott was not responsible for making decisions about these super-casinos that were going to be the result of the new gambling bill that was being guided through parliament by Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport. Jowell is of course the wife of David Mills, who has numerous links with the gambling industry and has been accused of money laundering. He is currently being investigated by the Italian authorities because of a suspected corrupt relationship with Tony Blair’s close friend, Silvio Berlusconi.

It was recently revealed that Prescott has had an undeclared meeting with Philip Anschutz on his ranch (the trip was paid for by the British taxpayer). Prescott claims he went to see Anschutz to talk about William Wilberforce and the farming subsidies in the United States. However, as a result of the Guardian seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been discovered that Prescott had seven private meetings with Anschutz between August 2002 and July 2005. These documents show that Anschutz’s company, AEG, was seeking “high-level confirmation” that the government’s plans to liberalise the country’s gambling laws would go ahead.

Most disturbing of all were documents showing that Prescott’s officials were pressing the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to be kept informed about the progress of the negotiations going on with AEG.

The government now has a problem. If they give a super-casino contract to Anschutz it will be claimed that he bribed Prescott and Jowell (what is the betting that Prescott, Jowell and Mills (if he is not in prison) end up with lucrative contracts as consultants to the gambling industry. However, if Anschutz does not get the contract he is likely to turn nasty and might reveal that he is one of those who has been providing the Labour Party with the loans that Lord Sainsbury was pressurized to say he gave.

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Here is an interesting article on John Prescott's friend.


Citizen Anschutz

How the conservative Christian head of Regal Cinemas is trying to change how you see movies.

by Justin Clark

March 23, 2006

Consider the following scenario: It's Saturday, and you feel like going to the movies. You see the latest installment of The Chronicles of Narnia advertised in your local Examiner newspaper, part of a chain whose name has been trademarked in more than seventy cities. You decide to go to your local theater — a Regal, Edwards, or United Artists. You sit through twenty minutes of advertising, followed by the film itself, which has been delivered from studio to theater by a fiber-optic line.

The underlying theme? Every stage of your moviegoing experience — from production to promotion to distribution to exhibition — was controlled by one man: sixty-six-year-old religious conservative Philip Anschutz.

Named Fortune's "greediest executive" in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ' thirty-fourth richest American, two spots above Revlon's Ronald Perelman. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country's movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed. (Anschutz was accused of helping falsely inflate Qwest profit reports, then making millions by selling his own shares in the company — a claim he ultimately settled by paying millions to charity.)

Anschutz's stake in Hollywood has been growing since 2000, when he began buying the bankrupt Regal, Edwards and United Artists chains and founded two film studios, Walden Media and Bristol Bay. In many areas of the country, the Regal Cinemas chain is the only option for seeing first-run films. Carole Handler, a prominent Los Angeles anti-trust attorney, says this gives Anschutz considerable leverage in his latest domain of conquest. "Anschutz is the person who went and bought the theaters out of bankruptcy," she says. "Don't think that passed unnoticed by the studios."

Anschutz has gained considerable power in negotiating licensing agreements with the film studios, contracts which impact everything from where a movie is played, to how long it runs, how it's marketed, which upcoming releases are given trailer time, and how revenue is split between the studio and the theater. It is a kind of power, says Handler, that harkens back to the early days of cinema, when studios, distributors, exhibitors and even movie star magazines were concentrated into the same relatively few hands.

There's a twist, though: Anschutz's politics. A heavy contributor to the Republican Party for decades, Anschutz helped fund Amendment 2, a ballot initiative to overturn a state law protecting gay rights, and helped stop another initiative promoting medical marijuana. More recently, he helped fund the Discovery Institute, a conservative Christian think tank that mounted a public relations campaign and financed "research" into intelligent design. He has also supported the Media Research Council, the group that generated nearly all the indecency complaints with the FCC in 2003. Ironically, it was Hollywood that saved Anschutz.

As a friend of his told Fortune, Anschutz "has a latent interest in doing something significant in American Christianity. He is working deliberately and diligently on it."

Anschutz did not respond to Nerve's request for an interview, and he has given only a handful over the past few decades. This is not for lack of an opinion or a story to tell. A devout Presbyterian who grew up in Kansas, Anschutz is married with two daughters and a son. He inherited his father's land investment and oil exploration business, but didn't grow up wealthy; in fact, he gave up his plans to attend law school because the family business was failing.

Ironically, it was Hollywood that saved Anschutz. After discovering a major oil well in Wyoming, the well caught fire. Anschutz sought to hire Red Adair, the legendary oil well firefighter to put it out, but wasn't able to pay Adair's fee. Anschutz realized he could pay Adair — and make $100,000 on top of that — by selling the rights to the footage to Hollywood.

Having faced tough times before, Anschutz is probably not overly concerned about the fact that theater attendance was down six percent this year, even in an industry with thin profit margins. Earlier this month Regal reported a forty-three percent increase in fourth quarter profits, a windfall partly credited to another Anschutz venture, the holiday blockbuster and Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Narnia has grossed close to $300 million, a far cry from the first film Anschutz produced, 2002's Joshua. A depiction of the Second Coming, Joshua pulled in less than $1.5 million for its studio, Epiphany Films, a specialty label of Anschutz's proselytic-sounding Crusader Entertainment. While websites are usually maintained even for box office flops — 2003's Gigli, for instance — Joshua's site has been taken down, and its URL redirects visitors to the studio's new name, Bristol Bay.

To some, redirection might be an appropriate metaphor for Anschutz's entire enterprise, which they fear is all about bringing God and conservatism to Hollywood under a more secular and apolitical guise. Or, as Joshua co-producer Bob Beltz told Christianity Today in 2002, "We wanted something that we thought would have more of a mainstream impact, that would expose unchurched people to the person of Christ in a way that they might walk out of the theater saying, 'Is it possible that Jesus could really be that wonderful?'"

Some have speculated that Narnia might be what Anschutz's friend meant by the "significant" contribution the media mogul wants to make: using his wealth to buy a place for evangelicals in Hollywood. The film's distributor, Disney, initially Redemption might be an appropriate metaphor for Anschutz's entire enterprise.

wasn't interested in Narnia. Gradually, Disney began to realize the Christian allegory's potential appeal among evangelicals, who demonstrated their box-office clout with The Passion of the Christ.

Anschutz isn't just blurring religious and secular lines with his film, but taking advantage of a softened divide between production and exhibition. In the early days of Hollywood, film studios dominated the exhibition business, obligating independent theater owners to accept bad films in exchange for the right to play good ones. In 1948, the federal government issued the Paramount Consent Decree, forcing the major studios to divest their theater holdings. Recent theater mergers, such as the consolidation of AMC and Loews (the number two and number three chains, respectively) must pass antitrust scrutiny. AMC/Loews, whose merger closed in January, was forced to sell off theaters in key markets such as Boston and San Francisco last year to avoid creating a monopoly.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, exhibition overbuilt [too many expensive theaters] in shopping centers. The centers declined in value while the rents did not," says Handler. "Then in the 1990s most of the exhibition houses sought bankruptcy. Many emerged from bankruptcy under aegis not of common ownership but of common investment."

Instead of buying United Artists, Edwards, and Regal Cinema outright, Anschutz avoided antitrust concerns by acquiring their debt, Handler explains. Regal already has a distribution monopoly in many areas of the country, and Anschutz's power extends beyond Regal to joint ventures he has formed with his competitors. His partner, Oaktree Capital Management, is financing Sundance's new art-house chain. Instead of selling off pieces of Regal Cinemas' overbuilt empire, Anschutz launched The 2wenty, twenty minutes of pre-show advertising that launched with a free ad for the military, Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter. In 2004, Anschutz merged his pre-show advertising business with AMC's and Cinemark's. The result was National Cinemedia, a company that now runs its ads on more than half of the nation's screens, and whose president is a former co-chairman of Regal Entertainment Group.

Some viewers have sued the theater chains that run the ads, alleging that delaying the start of movie trailers until twenty minutes past the posted show time constitutes false advertising. But the ads aren't going away. Cinema advertising is an increasingly lucrative source of revenue, with sales up forty-eight percent in 2004. The theaters that haven't succumbed to the trend Anschutz started are having trouble surviving, says Jason Thompson, director of Captive Motion Picture Audience of America, an organization that protests theater advertising.

Where advertising and programming were once left to theater managers, Anschutz now has centralized control of every Regal Theater through its proprietary Digital Content Network. Anschutz has also bought up television ad time and billboards for his "For a Better Life" campaign, which emphasizes values such as "faith" and "integrity," sometimes promoting them with Disney characters such as Kermit the Frog and Shrek. While the campaign is not explicitly religious, it does offer unsolicited moral advice to movie patrons at Regal's 6,000 screens. The ads were produced by Bonneville Communications, a Salt Lake City agency that produces ads for the Mormon Church.

In 2005, PG-rated films outperformed R-rated films in the theater for the first time in two decades. Conservatives have touted weak theater attendance as proof that the heartland isn't interested in Hollywood's As a financial backer of Ray, Anschutz reportedly insisted on altering the details of subject Ray Charles' life, downplaying his drug use and womanizing to obtain a PG-13 rating.

licentiousness and liberal politics. The Dove Foundation, non-profit advocates of "wholesome family entertainment", published a study showing that G-rated movies are eleven times more profitable than R-rated flicks. Indeed: as a co-producer and financial backer of Oscar contender Ray, Anschutz reportedly insisted on altering the details of subject Ray Charles' life, downplaying his drug use and womanizing to obtain a PG-13 rating.

Although Hollywood didn't heed the Dove Foundation's advice in 2005 — the key Oscar nominations were all low-grossing films that are very political — studios have begun looking into releasing PG versions of their R-rated fare, an innovation made possible by the advent of digital cinema. The double release would allow theaters to play the cleaner version during more lucrative screening times earlier in the day, and the director's cut later on.

What's good for the theater lobby isn't necessarily good for those of us who don't want our entertainment censored. Yet there is no shortage of screenwriters willing to lend Hollywood's product a cleaner sensibility. In December, the Atlantic Monthly reported on Christian screenwriting school Act One, whose faculty includes producers and writers from mainstream shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and That '70s Show. In 2004, conservatives launched the Liberty Film Festival; last October the festival included a panel discussion titled, "Was Communism a Threat to Hollywood?"

Perhaps the more pressing question: is Hollywood ready to compensate exhibitors by eschewing edgy politics for movies with a built-in audience? A sequel — or, more accurately, prequel — to The Passion of the Christ is rumored. New Line Cinema is producing The Nativity, a film based on the life of Mary and Joseph, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown). The End of the Spear tells the story of five missionaries whose families forgive the South American tribe that killed them.

Fears of a boycott of one of the year's most eagerly anticipated releases, The Da Vinci Code, has Sony Pictures mounting a public relations campaign among evangelicals and Catholics. Madea's Family Reunion, which recently opened at the top of the box office, is a comedy about an African-American Christian fundamentalist family, whose evangelical producer Tyler Perry has, according to the L.A. Times, helped sell studio heads on the African-American Christian film market. Besides working on the Narnia franchise, Anschutz's Walden Media is releasing Amazing Grace, a biopic of the Christian revivalist Wilbur Wilberforce.

Anschutz may well see himself as someone like Wilberforce, the wealthy merchant's son whose embrace of evangelical Christianity led him to fight to abolish the British slave trade. Wilberforce, however, was open about his intentions. Anschutz may better resemble another openly conservative Presbyterian, one who acquired his own vertically integrated empire of newspapers, film studios, and television stations years before anyone realized he would turn those media outlets into his personal political mouthpiece. That man was Rupert Murdoch.

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Prescott claims he visited Anschutz to discuss William Wilberforce. Prescott represents the same constituency as Wilberforce and sees himself as some sort of expert on the subject. It is true that Anschutz is currently involved in producing a film on Wilberforce. Anschutz, a right-wing conservative, will no doubt be stressing the role that rich white men played in bringing slavery to an end. I suppose Prescott goes along with this false interpretation of the past.

Maybe Prescott discussed with Anschutz his views on homosexuality. Over the last few years Anschutz has spent large sums of money on campaigning against gay rights. Another subject Anschutz feels strongly about is creationism and intelligent design. It is possible that with this way out views he might be considering sponsoring a City Technology College in Hull.

Maybe Prescott was discussing how to make money from owning a company in financial trouble. For example, Anschutz used to run Quest Communications. He then showed Kenneth Lay of Enron how to falsely inflate profit reports before selling your shares in the company. Anschutz kept out of prison by donating millions to charity.

Anschutz is very concerned about moral issues. He is very much against sexual content in movies, the taking of soft drugs and gay rights. However, he has never showed much interest in gambling before. This is a new venture instigated by his business partner, Sol Kerzner. The media have had very little to say about Kerzner but he has an interesting background. Kerner is a white South African who made his fortune from Sun City. During 1985, Kerzner's Sun City, South Africa resort was the topic of anti-Apartheid rock album titled Sun City by a group of rock musicians calling themselves Artists United Against Apartheid.

Kerzner then got involved in gambling. He owns the Mohegan Sun casino located in Uncasville, Connecticut. Kerzner has been investigated for corruption a number of times, none of which have resulted in a conviction. Like Anschutz, he knows the politicians you need to keep happy.

Simon Jenkins interviewed Sol Kerzner a few months ago. Kerzner admitted that his investment in the Dome depended on winning a casino licence.

It is estimated that Kerzner, Anschutz and others wanting to win contracts to open casinos in the UK, have spent over $100m on a campaign to open-up gambling in the country. Blair’s government was targeted as “the soft moral underbelly of Europe”. The industry is rightly barred from most European countries.

Despite pressure from Blair and Prescott, the Home Office refused to introduce new gambling regulations. Therefore, Blair had the good idea to move gambling legislation from the Home Office to the Culture Department. This was very convenient as Tessa Jowell, the minister concerned, was married to David Mills, a gambling political lobbyist. It was probably Mills who arranged for Kerzner and Anschutz to meet Jowell, Richard Caborn (minister of gambling) and Gideon Hoffman, head of Whitehall’s gambling division.

One of the reasons that people like Kerzner and Anschutz are willing to pay millions corrupting our politicians and civil servants concerns the way the contracts are organized. Each contract will give the company a total monopoly in the city or town that gets it. It is indeed a licence to print money. It is also the reason why organized crime is behind these businessmen who have so far been able to use their money to keep out of prison.

One of the features of this story is that the people making the most noise about Prescott are conservative politicians representing those gambling organizations that are in competition with Kerzner and Anschutz.

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There are several claims in today’s newspapers that people close to Tony Blair are briefing against John Prescott. It is suggested that Blair will ditch Prescott before he goes on holiday next month. He will be replaced by one of the following: Alan Johnson, David Miliband, Jack Straw or Margaret Beckett. Ideally he would like the first two but that will upset Gordon Brown, who sees both men as having the ability to deny him the premiership.

Prescott is also unlikely to go quietly. He is already saying off the record that he was only carrying out Blair’s orders when he did his deals with Philip Anschutz. According to Prescott, Blair became anxious when the government could not find a buyer of the £758m Millennium Dome when it closed in 2000. Blair saw the dome as a symbol of his premiership and a beacon for the redevelopment of London. As Lord James, the dome chairman, pointed out, this became a crisis when it was discovered in October, 2000, that according to the original contract, if it was not sold by November, 2000, it would have to be demolished. Blair was particularly concerned about the images of the dome being pulled down.

Prescott was ordered to use any means at his disposal to sell the dome. He did this by doing a deal with Philip Anschutz. It was the most appalling deal possible. The £758m dome was given away for nothing. His company, AEG, would turn the site into a sports and entertainment complex. The government claimed victory by arguing that they would get a share of any future profits in the venture. AEG also promised to invest £300m on developing the site. This included the building of 10,000 homes and the creation of 24,000 jobs. This deal was eventually signed in May 2002.

What the public was not told about was that Prescott had promised Anschutz and his business partner, Sol Kerzner, that London would win the 2012 Olympics bid. This would draw large crowds to the dome. As a result of this promise, Blair had to do everything possible in order to get the Olympics. It is possible that Blair was forced to resort to illegal methods in order to obtain the 2012 Olympics. (I am sure the French will have a lot to say about this over the next few years.)

The second promise involved passing a law that would allow the building of “supercasinos” in Britain. The Home Office would not do as it was told and so the new gambling bill was given to Tessa Jowell at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). In July, 2003, AEG had its first meeting with Richard Caborn, the junior minister at DCMS, involved in drafting this new gambling bill. According to the minutes of the meeting, AEG said it was their intention to build a massive Las Vegas style casino next to the dome. However, the problem was that this kind of casino was banned in the UK, as it is in most of Europe.

A few weeks later, Lord McIntosh, another junior minister at DCMS, wrote a memo that said: “The deputy prime minister’s office are suggesting a further meeting with AEG. The important thing that AEG needs to hear is high-level confirmation of the government’s commitment to the gambling reform programme.”

Another DCMS briefing note on 20 November 2003 pointed out that Sol Kerzner had now joined forces with AEG and that he was insisting on being given permission to build a “super casino” in London. Two months later Prescott had a meeting with Anschutz in London. A memo sent to Lord McIntosh stated: “You should be aware that John Prescott recently met Phil Anschutz… the casino is a key plank in AEG’s long-term business strategy.”

In July 2004 Prescott flew to Los Angeles to have another meeting with Anschutz (at a cost to the taxpayer of £8,868). The official reason given for the trip was “various regeneration, development and new urbanism site visits.”

In October, 2004, Tessa Jowell published the proposed new legislation. It announced the granting of an unlimited number of licences to build and run super casinos. It was thought that if this happened, people would not notice the possible link between the selling of the dome and the building of a super casino in London. Understandably, this proposal caused a great deal of concern. Under extreme pressure, Jowell offered to limit it to 10 super casinos.

This became an issue during the run-up to the last general election and Jowell was forced to promise that she would cut the number to one super casino. In May 2005, a short-list of 8 locations, including the dome site, was announced. This meant that several bidders were not on the list. This included Thames Gateway South Essex, who wanted to build a super casino in Southend. Rob Tinlin, chief executive of Southend Council, claimed that John Prescott had been using his influence to get the AEG bid on the short-list.

The super-casino licence will be announced later this year. If it is granted to AEG everyone will believe it is as a result of government corruption. If it is not, AEG is likely to reveal details of promises that have been made by government ministers. It will also refuse to invest in the building of the homes on the site. Anschutz might even announce that it was him and not Lord Sainsbury who provided the £2 million loan to the Labour Party. Tony Blair and John Prescott have got themselves into a lose-lose situation.

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If you are interested, the person John Prescott is rumoured to have had an affair with Rosie Winterton. The story is important because it is being argued that Winterton has obtained special treatment because of giving sexual favours to Prescott. Here is an extract from an article from yesterday's Mail on Sunday:

At the Commons on Wednesday night, as demands for John Prescott to resign grew, the Deputy Prime Minister met four of his closest friends and allies for a 'council of war' to plan his survival strategy. Sports Minister Dick Caborn and Labour MPs Dave Watts and Paul Clark, who have publicly defended Mr Prescott, joined the Deputy Prime Minister for a quiet drink in the Strangers' Bar overlooking the River Thames. As they discussed how Mr Prescott could save his job, the group was joined by Health Minister Rosie Winterton, an ally and confidante of Mr Prescott for more than 25 years. The next morning he parried a sustained assault by the BBC's John Humphrys over his affair with diary secretary Tracey Temple and internet rumours of other women in his life.

Asked by Humphrys to state categorically that the rumours about his private life were untrue, Mr Prescott repeatedly avoided the issue. This failed to prevent further internet gossip appearing and being repeated in the media - though Mr Prescott's supporters denounced it as a 'Tory dirty-tricks campaign'.

Approached by The Mail on Sunday in the Commons last week, Mr Prescott again refused to talk about his private life and said he was the victim of a 'media assassination'. With the exception of wife Pauline, who is based mainly at the family home in Hull, no woman has exerted more influence over Mr Prescott than bubbly blonde Ms Winterton.

When Mr Prescott attended a weekend memorial concert for former Cabinet Minister Mo Mowlam at London's Theatre Royal in November, he was accompanied not by Mrs Prescott, but by Ms Winterton.

She has been loyal to him since she got a job making tea in his Hull constituency office after graduating from Hull University. Her loyalty has been richly rewarded. Thanks in no small part to his encouragement and patronage, petite Ms Winterton, who looks much younger than her 47 years, became a Labour MP in 1997.

She now earns £90,000 a year as a Minister of State for Health Services, just one rung below the Cabinet. The crowning glory of the rise and rise of Ms Winterton came earlier this month when she was appointed a Privy Counsellor, a member of the elite group that advises the Queen. This entitles her to be addressed as the Right Honourable Rosie Winterton. Her decision to remain single is certainly not the result of a lack of suitors.

'Rosie is the life and soul of the party and has loads of blokes throwing themselves at her,' said one northern Labour MP. 'I assume she never married because she was determined to get to the top in politics and had no time for a husband and kids.'She is proud of her trim figure and keeps her tan topped up through the winter.

Her short skirts and knee-high boots have raised some eyebrows, but her fun-loving manner has made her popular on all sides. Commons observers couldn't help but notice that Tracey Temple, the secretary with whom Mr Prescott conducted an affair, bears a certain resemblance to Ms Winterton. Asked about Mr Prescott's enduring friendship with Ms Winterton, one of his closest colleagues said: 'They've always been special friends.

They get on tremendously well and she knows how to handle John.' Ms Winterton's links with Mr Prescott's Hull constituency go back to her student days - she studied history at the city's university.

There, she had a romance with historian Dr Henry Irving, who is also a friend of the Deputy Prime Minister. After working for Mr Prescott, Ms Winterton became a lobbyist, campaigning for a Channel Tunnel rail link to the North of England and as parliamentary officer for the Royal College of Nursing.

She then achieved her dream of becoming a Labour MP, with Mr Prescott's help vital in her successful campaign to win the solid Labour seat of Doncaster Central, in her home town.

He paid frequent visits to the Yorkshire town and used to stop off on his way home to Hull to have a pint in the Little Plough pub opposite Doncaster station with local activists, urging them to back Ms Winterton.

Mr Prescott has continued to act as her guardian angel since she joined him on the Commons benches, assisting in her rapid promotion. Her performance as a Health Minister came under fire when a shake-up of NHS dentistry led to thousands of patients being forced to go private, prompting speculation that Ms Winterton would be forced out.

But Mr Prescott argued she should stay - and she survived. 'Whenever there is talk of her being moved in a reshuffle, John will lobby hard for her to keep her job,' said an insider. In his official biography of Mr Prescott, author Colin Brown says Ms Winterton's advice and political intelligence is worth 'its weight in gold' to her mentor.


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  • 1 month later...

It has been revealed that John Prescott’s son, David Prescott, has been using a House of Commons pass granting him full access to parliament. It was given to him by his father. This is not normally a problem but David Prescott is director of the public relations consultancy Geronimo Communications. Parliamentary rules prevent working lobbyists from holding Commons passes.

Another son, Jonathan Prescott is also involved in shady business dealings. He runs Estate Partnerships, a company much used by property developers. His main job is to identify land that would jump in value if granted planning permission by the government. The question is – does he benefit from receiving inside information?

It was recently revealed by the Sunday Times that Jonathan Prescott recently held a meeting for several property developers at his father’s official apartment in Whitehall.

In recent years there has been a tendency for the sons of football managers to set themselves as football agents. They then go on to earn large sums of money by arranging deals with their father’s clubs. It seems the same kind of thing is happening in politics.

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  • 4 months later...

On Tuesday Tessa Jowell, the "Culture Secretary" (what about that for something out of 1984) will announce the company that will get the “Super Casino” contract. Some observers have taken the view that after the exposure of John Prescott’s relationship with Phillip Anschutz, this would rule out the contract going to AEG. However, others have argued that if Anschutz does not get the contract, Anschutz will start talking about the corrupt deal he did with Prescott/Blair/Jowell. Up until last week AEG was the hot favourite for the contract. Then, on Friday night, large sums of money were gambled on it going to Blackpool rather than the Millennium Dome. Is this another case of government insider dealing? Maybe Jowell has told her husband about who is going to get the contract. It will help to pay his and his mafia friends in Italy to pay off their legal fees. Maybe this is how Anschutz is getting paid off?

Jowell will not only be announcing details of the super casino on Tuesday. She will also giving out contracts for 8 large and 8 small ones. A super casino is one where you are allowed to install up to 1,250 gaming machines, offering unlimited prizes; large ones can have 150 machines and small ones will be limited to 80 machines. The amount of prize money that can be won on the machines in large and small casinos will also be increased. Other changes are also being brought in to increase the amount of gambling that takes place in these casinos. This includes changing regulations concerning the membership of casinos and advertising restrictions.

Measures are also being taken to make Britain the internet gambling capital of the world. This is in response to America’s decision to ban internet gambling.

It is estimated that the UK has 300,000 problem gamblers. This means people who are so addicted to gambling they are currently in the process of losing everything they own. In many cases, this means the family home. It is not only the problem gambler who will suffer from this legislation.

Why is the government doing this? The first reason concerns the doing of deals, such as the Anschutz/Millennium Dome secret contract. Other contracts will result in backhanders to politicians.

The other reason concerns taxation. According to the HM Revenue & Customs total “betting stakes” have gone up from £7 billion in 1996 (the year before Labour came into power) to over £47 billion in 2005. These figures do not include the £5 billion spent every year on the National Lottery. According to figures produced by the Department of Culture, the total gambling industry is currently worth £61 billion (that is more than the GDP of Slovakia).

With the changes in the law concerning casinos and internet gambling, this £61 billion figure will go through the roof. This will provide enormous sums in taxation. After all, it is an expensive business fighting the “war on terror”.

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Manchester has got the contract for the super-casino. However, according to this morning's Guardian, the government intends to quickly relax the restrictions on super-casinos so that AEG will get what it wants and will not resort to leaking information about its secret deal over the Millennium Dome. Ministers will argue that the monoploy contract is unfair and that for the good of competition it has to give out super-casino contracts to over organizations.

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Gambling proliferates in Britain, from bingo to betting on horses and dogs, scratchcards, raffles, lotteries, fruit machines and poker clubs. There are casinos aplenty already. Anyone wanting to pull a one-armed bandit or dabble in roulette, blackjack and poker can find somewhere to do so. As a result, the stake value of gambling under Labour has soared from £7bn in 1997 to £48bn in 2005, plus a further £5bn on the lottery. This is hardly an industry that seems in chronic need of government support.

Most countries are paranoid about supercasinos, treating them like gargantuan opium dens. Across America they are confined to a few resorts such as Las Vegas and to native American reservations (such as the "world's biggest" at the Pequots' Foxwoods casino, in Connecticut). The federal government has also recently declared all online gaming illegal. Russia is restricting gambling to designated zones from 2009. Both countries clearly regard easy access to betting as a social menace - as does most of Europe.

So what persuaded Tessa Jowell to welcome supercasinos to Britain's shores with open arms? The answer is that the Las Vegas cartel, already under pressure at home, targeted Britain as the "soft underbelly" of new-wave gaming in Europe. Either the law or the mafia had the market sewn up in Scandinavia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Blair's government was regarded as an easy touch, and tens of millions of pounds were spent lobbying for it. Philip Anschutz invited John Prescott to his Colorado ranch not for the colour of his eyes. Anschutz's interest in the dome was as a supercasino, as he made abundantly clear. The only amazement is that none of the Vegas money appears to have reached Labour party coffers (or will I have to eat these words?)

Blair and Jowell capitulated with astonishing speed. They passed no laws against online gaming. Under the 2005 act Jowell said she wanted not one but 40 supercasinos and was beaten back only by the massed ranks of the church and anti-addiction lobbies. She did not take no for an answer. She retreated from 40 to eight and then to just one, an inexplicable outcome. Why make big punters burn petrol crossing the country to Manchester rather than stay closer to home? Why benefit just one operator and eliminate competition? If super-gambling is to be suppressed, stop it. If not, leave it to the free market. The appearance of limp-wristed semi-regulation was incoherent, like a government trying to be half a virgin.

Jowell's department seems unable to carry the weight of moral responsibility placed on it. Under pressure from the drinks lobby she legislated to liberate alcohol consumption in pubs across the land - while those who supply cannabis and ecstasy in those same pubs are imprisoned in ever greater numbers. She allows thousands to be crammed into basement raves across England's cities, yet persecutes any church or social club that dares to put on a string quartet. She is for more gambling yet against "problem gaming". There is no rhyme or reason to her nannydom.

Whenever the government tries to ban something people enjoy, it makes a mess. It tried to ban off-course horse-race betting and had to capitulate to the high-street betting shop. In an earlier age it capitulated to the gin shop and the brothel, and then half-uncapitulated to the latter. Now it is trying to pretend that it disapproves of high-stakes casino gambling while at the same time wishing to appease the casino lobby.

I imagine this whole argument is on the way to oblivion. The supercasino is so unappealing (and now inconveniently located) as to be easily undercut by smaller local ones and by internet sites. In a few years we shall be reading of casino bankruptcies and closures. The free market will make decisions that ministers find it hard to make for themselves.

The one question remaining is by what moral compass the cabinet is guided. How can Jowell and her colleagues patronise the alcohol and gambling lobbies and yet blindly repress other indulgences and addictions, notably street drugs. Why are they filling city centres with drunks and gamblers yet filling prisons with drug users?

The obvious answer to the assault of the supercasino lobby would have been to leave decisions to the cities in which operators wanted to locate their premises and to decide on size and regional impact if necessary at planning appeal. As long as gambling is legal and Blackpool council wants a larger casino, it should not be the business of London or Jowell or the cabinet to say no. This is not a matter of postcode morality but of postcode choice. Instead the government has handed millions of pounds and thousands of jobs to Manchester, which does not need them, and denied them to Blackpool, which does. It is plain unfair.


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