The Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) has joined Methodists, the Anglican Bishop of Hume, the Archbishop of Canterbury and numerous other church and civic leaders in expressing disappointment at the granting of a licence for a regional super-casino in Manchester.
They point out that this should not be written off as ‚Äòreligious lobbying‚Äô, but as a wider community concern about social justice.
The Movement, which has a large number of Labour MPs among its members, says it is concerned that such a development could lead to a substantial rise in problem gambling and expose thousands of vulnerable people to the misery of debt.
CSM acknowledges that the casino may help to accelerate regeneration in the part of Manchester in which it is to be built. But it also notes the detrimental consequences it could have for the area, including a rise in gambling-related debt, crime, bankruptcy and associated social problems including unemployment and family breakdown.
CSM director Dr Andrew Bradstock said that it was hard to understand why a Labour government, in particular, was going down this route. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs true that the new Gambling Act contains provisions to protect children and other vulnerable people, as well as regulate internet gambling‚Äù, he said.
Dr Bradstock continued: ‚ÄúThe Act only permits one super casino at present, so that its effects can be properly monitored. But these casinos, to be successful, need to attract several thousand new people into gambling ‚Äì at a time when there are already hundreds of thousands of ‚Äòproblem gamblers‚Äô in the UK.‚Äù
He added: ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs also worrying is that there is little popular demand ‚Äì or even support ‚Äì for these mega casinos. Polls suggest that the majority of people would not want one in their neighbourhood, and concern about the consequences of increased opportunities for gambling extends far beyond the religious community.‚Äù
The Christian Socialist Movement has called on the government to ensure that proper monitoring and evaluation of the social and economic impact of the regional casino in Manchester is undertaken. It also wants a substantial proportion of the revenue it will receive channeled into social and anti-addiction measures.
Government minister Tessa Jowell, who has played a central role in progressing what many say is New Labour‚Äôs ‚Äúobsession‚Äù with gambling, is a practicing Anglican.
Earlier this week the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, expressed his own concerns. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs quite clear from all the research figures that gambling is a more and more popular form of addiction in this country; and we must not underrate the seriousness of that.‚Äù
He declared: ‚ÄúAll addictions are imprisonments for the soul. It seems to me that any large, high profile development is going to attract attention and draw people in here. I‚Äôm concerned about the messages that are being sent out about the attraction of gambling to children and young people.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm concerned that... we can‚Äôt think of better ways of regenerating deprived areas than by developing within them institutions which may well contribute to the material and spiritual deprivation of the area in the long term,‚Äù added Dr Williams.
Meanwhile, the British Methodist Church, like CSM, is challenging the government and industry to channel ‚Äúsubstantial resources to help those many thousands, if not millions‚Äù who will develop gambling-related problems, said Anthea Cox, the church's coordinating secretary for public life and social justice.
Research indicates an estimated 370,000 people in the United Kingdom already have gambling problems. A poll commissioned by the Salvation Army shows that 56 percent of British people (and 64 percent of British women) do not want a casino to open where they live.
Manchester local government officials cite renewal of rundown areas, ¬£265 million in investments and up to 2,700 new jobs as good reasons to welcome the super casino. But critics wonder who will be the real beneficiaries ‚Äì those in the community, or the wealthy coming in from outside.
The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Anglican Bishop of Hume, commented to the BBC: ‚ÄúMany of these jobs are going to be in the leisure industry, which is notorious for low pay. If what was being offered was a living wage rather than a minimum wage, then it might be a more positive situation.‚Äù
He continued: ‚ÄúThese facilities are alongside the poorest communities, and there is every evidence that gambling addiction follows the building of casinos. It‚Äôs all very well introducing safeguards to people‚Äôs addictions ‚Äì but it would be better not to encourage addiction in the first place.‚Äù
Bishop Lowe noted: ‚ÄúThe regeneration of Manchester is already going ahead. The government seems fixed on the idea that casinos are needed for regeneration. But can‚Äôt we do better than super-casinos? The problem is that the door has been opened [to more casinos].‚Äù