Giving the go-ahead for more gaming machines on the high street threatens to trigger a surge in problem gambling, Church groups say as Parliament reveals its report into gambling.
The report recommends scrapping the upper limit of four high-risk B2 machines that betting shops are allowed to have on their premises. The report also expects local authorities to apply limits to the maximum number of machines in betting shops, but does not give power to local authorities to stop the spread of betting shops on the high street.
"This is a one way bet towards more addictive gambling machines in our communities," said Gareth Wallace from the Salvation Army. "Betting shops are making more and more profit from virtual games away from real horses.
"We're perplexed that the committee would recommend a further liberalisation of gambling machines when they heard evidence that problem gambling is on the rise."
The report, published by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and entitled The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?, looks into the gambling industry in the light of the 2005 Gambling Act. One of the stated aims of the Gambling Act is the "protection of children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling."
Church groups gave evidence to the committee last year and called for more to be done to protect those with gambling problems by effective regulation of the industry.
Daniel Webster of the Evangelical Alliance said: "The committee completely ignored the risks posed by B2 gaming machines. You can lose thousands of pounds an hour on these machines, but if the committee gets its way casinos will be granted more B2 machines, betting shops will be subject to no compulsory limit, and, for the first time, gaming arcades will be allowed to operate them.
"They didn't listen to the 22 per cent of callers to the gambling helpline citing these machines as problems, but backed an industry wanting to make a profit out of the pockets of the poorest."
James North of the Methodist Church said: "We believe the Select Committee has missed an important opportunity to halt the normalisation of hard gambling on our high streets. Category B2 gaming machines are strongly implicated in problem gambling. The Committee should have focused on reducing the availability of these dangerous machines."
Helena Chambers of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs said: "The Select Committee has not given the increase in problem gambling the priority it deserves. Around 100,000 more individuals and their families have suffered from problem gambling since the Gambling Act of 2005. The committee recommends more local powers, but does not give local authorities the central power they need - to limit gambling outlets if they feel they already have too many."
The churches welcomed calls by the committee for further comparable research on problem gambling rates and the introduction of a national system of self-exclusion regulated by the Gambling Commission. However, their recommendations did not mention this proposal in relation to remote gambling.
Dr. Daniel Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs for Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), said: "It is very welcome that the Committee recommended a national system for self exclusion which would be of great benefit for people dealing with an addiction, however it is odd and rather inconsistent that they do not mention this proposal in relation to remote gambling which is as important if not more so due to the easy access to numerous gambling websites."