The March Meeting 2020


Talk by David Sagar

The huge scale of gambling and betting in the UK amounting to over £14 billion was contrasted with the picture some 60 years ago when most forms of betting were illegal.   It was argued that the establishment of Casinos in the 1960s led to todayís liberalisation of all forms of gambling that are now  available, including the 24/7 option of online casinos.   This has resulted in public concern with the large numbers of individuals whose lives are damaged by losing money they can ill afford.

The presentation then set out to trace the beginnings of Casinos in the UK from early illegal operations in the 1950 and the launch of the Clermont Club by John Aspinall in the early 1960s.   The Clermont Clubís membership included many aristocrats, senior politicians and captains of industry.

 The Clermont exploited a loophole in Home Secretary Rab Butlerís Betting and Small Lotteries Act that entered the statutes in 1960.   This poorly drafted Act became known as the Vicarís Charter as it came about following lobbying by churches and charities.    It set out to legalise fund raising activities such as Bingo and Small lotteries. The essence of the Bill was that it legalised activities for small stakes where players had equal chances.

Following no legal challenges to the Clermont,  other Casinos opened in Londonís West End.   Aspinall argued that to a very wealthy player a small bet could amount to thousands of pounds and that, if they wanted, any member could take over the bankerís role in games and that therefore they all had equal chances.

Casino Clubs were then established throughout the UK without any hindrance.    However, a newly appointed Police Chief Constable of Essex decided that the small Kursaal Casino in Southend was illegal as it was clearly not the intention of the Butler Act to legalise casinos.     He decided to prosecute the Kursaal.

The Magistrates Court accepted the Kursaalís interpretation of the ĎVicarís Charterí and found their operations to be legal.    The Police appealed against this judgement and the matter was eventually determined by the Law Lords who declared that the Kursaalís operations were illegal.

 In spite of the ruling that casinos were illegal in the UK, the Home Secretary Jim Callaghan wanted time to consider whether to close or regulate all the UKís casinos and briefed the Police authorities accordingly.

However an intervention by Raymond Blackburn, a disgraced ex MP, brought matters to a head.    Following his release from prison for fraud, Blackburn blamed his conviction on gambling.     He attempted to serve a Writ of Mandamus in an effort to force the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to apply the law and close down casinos.

The matter was referred to Lord Justice Denning, the Master of the Rolls, who determined in January 1968 that an individual could not exercise the Writ and that the police had to have a level of discretion as to what areas of illegality were enforced.

Blackburnís action therefore failed, but Lord Denning strongly criticised the issuing of an instruction by the Commissionerís office that Police were not to carry out routine observations of Casino operations in spite of the Kursaal case ruling

Sir Joseph Simpson, who had a distinguished record of service over 10 years as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police died unexpectedly aged 58 in March 1968 of a massive heart attack party brought on by the resulting stress.     His service to the nation was recognised by a funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Eventually, a Gaming Board was established and UK Casinos were legalised by 1968 legislation.

The talk concluded with experiences working in the Curzon House Club famous for attracting many of the showbiz personalities of the era.

A question was raised by John Clifford and John Turner thanked David for an informative talk and who in the course of his work had met some very interesting people.

                                                                        Report by David Sagar


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