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The government today began pimping Britannia out to online gambling firms. The Department for Culture Media and Sport is hosting a conference at Royal Ascot aimed at bagging a lovely slice of pork as the industry realises its days of Wild West tax dodging are behind it.

Or, if you believe Tessa Jowell, it's all about protecting the kids. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said: "We will welcome them here because we believe that by allowing those who want to gamble to do so over the counter not under the counter is the best way to protect children and vulnerable people and keep out crime." Riiight.

The UK has 70 sporting betting sites, but currently no casino gaming operations are based here. Ministers are betting the UK's regulatory regime will now attract them with the promise of full legitimacy to calm twitchy shareholders. Until now, they've prefered tax havens like Gibraltar and the Caribbean Islands.

The industry is undergoing a massive reorganisation after the US decided to close a legal loophole which had allowed them to coin huge revenues from American punters playing casino games. The Safe Port Act was amended to make money transfers to or from online gambling outfits illegal. Stock exchange-listed firms quickly saw their share price plummet.

Prior to that, gambling execs were collared by the Feds as they passed through US airports.

Jowell recently sniped at the US for the ban. She said it harks back to the depression-era ban on booze.

She said today: "If companies do come to the UK it will be because 'regulated in the Great Britain' will mean a website is subject to the most stringent controls and social responsibility requirements anywhere in the world." ®

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