Government in danger of failing vulnerable people on gambling, say churches

The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church said today that despite some safeguards, the Government's 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, "There is absolutely no public demand for a liberalisation of the UK's 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.          
"It 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," commented Jonathan Lomax from The Salvation Army. "By 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."

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. "Research 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," commented Rachel Lampard.

On the issue of social responsibility, Rachel Lampard continued, "When 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 Government's 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 Government's proposal is completely inadequate, as it allows a problem to emerge first before addressing it."    

ENDS                                                                                


*NOP poll was conducted by telephone between 28-30th November 2003 amongst a nationally representative sample of 973 adults aged 18 and over. This was published on 10 Dec 2003 and can be found at www.salvationarmy.org.uk/news

 
· The Salvation Army is an international Christian church working in 109 countries worldwide. As a registered charity, The Salvation Army demonstrates its Christian principles through social welfare provision and is one of the largest, most diverse providers of social welfare in the world. The Salvation Army has over 1.5 million members and 88,000 employees. Programmes include homeless centres, drug rehabilitation centres, schools, hospitals, medical centres, as well as nearly 16,000 churches. Website: www.salvationarmy.org.uk

· The Methodist Church is the third larges denomination in Britain and there are over 70 million Methodists worldwide.  The Church has a long-standing commitment to "social holiness" which is expressed through welfare projects across the country and an involvement in contemporary social and political issues.  Website: www.methodist.org.uk

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