An alliance of nine Christian organisations , including representatives of major denominations , is calling on the government to reject moves to further liberalise Britain's gambling laws.
They are backing campaigns by non-religious groups and academics, arguing that the harm proved to be caused by gambling addiction is imperiling more and more people in a cash-strapped society.
"A boost for the gaming industry will be bad news for the vulnerable," they say.
Tomorrow (21 April) the House of Lords will be debating government proposals to double stakes and prizes on Category C and D gaming machines.
The members of the coalition have been organising representation through a website - www.fruitless.org.uk - and the Daily Telegraph newspaper has today published a letter from all nine bodies setting out their case.
The letter reads as follows:
Tomorrow, the Draft Categories of Gaming Machine (Amendment) Regulations 2009 will come before the House of Lords, following approval by the Commons. As an alliance of nine Christian organisations, we are extremely concerned about a proposed increase to the stake and prize limit for category C and D gaming machines.
Gerry Sutcliffe, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told the Commons Delegated Legislation Committee on March 31 that the concerns expressed by stakeholders, including faith groups, had been addressed. They have not. We have asked ministers and officials for evidence that raising the maximum fruit machine payout from £35 to £70, and doubling stakes from 50p to £1, will not increase problem gambling. None has been given.
Mr Sutcliffe also said that the changes will deliver “the genuine lift” that the gaming industry needs, yet prize money has increased threefold since 1997 and still the gaming industry returns to the table to ask the Government for more money.
This is a cavalier proposal at a time of economic recession. A boost for the gaming industry will be bad news for the vulnerable. We urge the Lords not to approve the regulations until substantial evidence has proved that problem gambling will not increase if stake and prize money is raised.
Rt Rev Dr Tom Butler
Bishop of Southwark, Church of England
Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs
Chief Executive, Christian Action Research and Education
Public Issues, United Reformed Church
Rt Rev David Lunan
Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
Dr R. David Muir
Public Policy Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance
Rev Stephen Poxon
President of Conference, British Methodist Church
Rev Graham Sparkes
Head of Faith and Unity, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Public Affairs Officer, Salvation Army