Churches say government may fail vulnerable over gambling
The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church said today that despite some safeguards, the Governmentís gambling proposals are still likely to cause a rise in problem gambling.
The two churches, which have consistently argued for better protection for vulnerable people, feel that the expansion of a leisure activity is still being given precedence over the welfare of thousands of people whose lives are ruined by problem gambling.
Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs for the Methodist Church said; "The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling bill echoed our fears  that problem gambling would rise as a result of some of the measures included in the Draft bill. We are disappointed, therefore, that the Government still sees more problem gambling as an acceptable price to pay for more gambling opportunities."
Jonathan Lomax, Public Affairs Officer for The Salvation Army added; ìThere is absolutely no public demand for a liberalisation of the UKís gambling regulations. An NOP poll  commissioned by The Salvation Army found that 93% of the public felt that there were enough opportunities to gamble in the UK already. This lack of demand begs the question as to why potentially harmful expansion is taking place."
The two churches are pleased that the Government has listened to concerns expressed by churches, charities and academics, and now proposes removing fruit machines from unlicensed premises such as fish and chip shops and mini cab offices. However, there is disappointment that children and young people will still be allowed to play fruit machines in some arcades.
ìIt is very disappointing that the Government proposes to maintain Britain's unique position in the world in allowing children to gamble on low-value fruit machines,î commented Jonathan Lomax from The Salvation Army. ìBy removing fruit machines from unlicensed premises the Government has already accepted that fruit machines are unsafe for children. If this is the case, the Government must explain why they are safe in arcades where children are free to enter without an adult.î
The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church, which gave oral evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, are pleased that the Government will place a cap on the number of unlimited prize fruit machines allowed in regional casinos. ìResearch indicates that these machines, which have unlimited stakes and prizes, are amongst the most addictive forms of gambling. The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church believe that it is vital to cap the number of these machines, but think that the cap must be set at a much lower level so that these new machines are introduced into the UK very cautiously,î commented Rachel Lampard.
On the issue of social responsibility, Rachel Lampard continued, ìWhen granting licences the Gambling Commission must examine an operator's demonstrable commitment to social responsibility, alongside standards of corporate integrity and financial probity. Social Responsibility has to be at the heart of the bill to limit the harm that gambling can cause in people's lives. "
Commenting on the Governmentís inclusion of a reserve power to remove alcohol from gaming floors if it leads to an increase in problem gambling, Jonathan Lomax from The Salvation Army said, "Gambling of any kind requires advanced mental processes, all of which are impaired by the consumption of alcohol. We believe the introduction of alcohol to casino gaming floors is a mistake that can only lead people to lose more money. This view is supported by 82% of the population who think that people are more likely to lose money if they drink alcohol while gambling. The reserve power to remove alcohol from gaming floors included in the Governmentís proposal is completely inadequate, as it allows a problem to emerge first before addressing it.î