In advance of today's (Wednesday’s) votes in Parliament on the geographical distribution of casino premises licences, campaigners including churches and other faith communities have been reiterating their opposition to the proposals to place a super-casino in Manchester.
The Faith Network for Manchester (FN4M), a forum that unites people from all faith communities across the city, published an Open Letter, opposing the location of the proposed super casino.
The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church have also re-stated their concerns relating to increased gambling opportunities, particularly the potentially devastating effects on the vulnerable.
FN4M said that whilst it fully supported regeneration, the faith communities in Manchester believe a super-casino would be counter-productive.
"We are concerned that the people of Manchester are to be used in a huge social experiment to test the effect of a super-casino on a community" they said in a statement.
" Locating the super-casino in East Manchester in particular will draw in local people already living in debt and compound their problems. There will be an increase in crime, traffic congestion and prostitution."
Campaigners say that the City Council’s claim there will be 2,700 jobs is misleading. Even based on the Council’s own figures, only 1,300 jobs will actually be created at the casino - and many will be low paid, unskilled. Of the rest, 500 are short term construction jobs, others are based on speculative figures as to jobs created elsewhere.
The lack of 'full and open' consultation has also been criticised.
“Evidence suggests that the new casinos, the increasing popularity of online gambling and the general drift towards the ‘normalisation’ of gambling within British culture, could result in many more people developing a serious gambling addiction over an extended period. We are not convinced that increasing gambling opportunities is a good thing for our nation and all of us who live here,” said Alison Jackson, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs for the Methodist Church.
The ‘super casino’ will house up to 1,250 highly addictive unlimited jackpot machines. The other 16 new casinos will be larger than anything currently operating in the UK.
While the Methodist Church and The Salvation Army have welcomed the Government’s recognition of the need for protection under the Act for vulnerable people and children, they believe there are still some fundamental issues to be addressed in this debate.
“The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church would have preferred to see no new casinos allowed under the Gambling Act 2005. We therefore welcome any debate which allows space for a further consideration of the overall impact of increased gambling opportunities,” said Captain Matt Spencer, of The Salvation Army.
It is estimated that there are already around 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK and the super casino will house some of the most addictive forms of gambling. Problem gambling can result in relationship breakdown, financial ruin, homelessness and in extreme cases, suicide. Its effects are far-reaching, impacting not only the individual gambler, but also their family, friends, and the wider community.
The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church campaigned during the passage of the Gambling Bill, requesting greater measures to protect children and vulnerable people The Gambling Act includes provision for the proper monitoring of the effects of these increased gambling opportunities and the two Churches have recently reminded the government of the need to keep to its commitments to properly evaluate the effects of the new casinos, wherever they may be sited.
The minimum casino evaluation period of three years must be measured from the opening of the new casinos, rather than from the awarding of the licences, say campaigners, as there could be a considerable amount of time between the license being awarded and the casino actually opening.