Christian groups are accusing the Government of gambling with lives in a response to plans from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
The DCMS is planning to increase stakes and prizes for the most widely available slot machines in Britain.
Under new proposals, stakes and prizes for Category C machines would double with maximum stakes going up to £1 and maximum prizes rising to £70. At a time of increasing poverty and unemployment, the maximum prize for a pub fruit machine will be higher than the Job Seeker's Allowance for a single person.
The Methodist Church, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church, the Evangelical Alliance, CARE and The Salvation Army have launched their campaign challenging the move.
'Fruitless' - a grouping of Churches and Christian organisations concerned about the impact of gambling - has responsed to the proposals and called for the government not to implement the measures.
Speaking today, Revd Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church & Society Council, said: “Increasing the stakes on one of the most addictive forms of gambling is not part of the responsible economic outlook that we now need. It increases pressure on the most vulnerable in society and helps the rich gambling industry to further exploit the weak.”
The Church of England’s Home Affairs Policy Adviser, Christopher Jones, said: “With global recession looming, unemployment rising and disposable income falling, the Government has gone back on its earlier concern for vulnerable people in response to pressure from the gambling industry.
“While it is right that there should be periodic reviews of stakes and prizes, the proposed increases are excessive and will encourage people to risk money that they simply cannot afford to lose. The Government should return to its more modest proposals made last summer and remember the arguments which persuaded it [then] not to opt for larger increases. It is wrong that people who are liable to engage in problem gambling should be made to pay the price of protecting businesses from economic pressures.
“Slot machines are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, because of the repetitive and solitary nature of play,” added David Bradwell, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the British Methodist Church. “The Government claims to be committed to protecting those vulnerable to gambling addiction, but has ignored our calls for caution and proper analysis. 'Fruitless' is making a stand for vulnerable people in the face of these ridiculous proposals.”
The churches have [had] a long history of campaigning against the negative impact of gambling. Prior to its introduction in 1994, many campaigned against the National Lottery.
However, many churches now routinely apply for lottery funding and receive millions of pounds from the National Lottery Heritage Fund each year.
Supporters are being encouraged to sign up to an online petition: http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/fruitless/.
The campaign is also supported by a website - www.fruitless.org.uk – which features personal stories of gambling addiction, in-depth information on the issues. and information on getting involved in the campaign.