15 February 2011

Churches call on the Goverment to act as problem gambling rises

The Government must take urgent action in response to a report showing a rise in the number of problem gamblers, say a group of Churches.

The call comes in response to the Gambling Commission 2010 Prevalence Study.

The study showed that there has been a small increase in the overall number of people gambling, and the number of individuals classed as problem gamblers has also risen.

Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs at the Church of England, said: "Problem gamblers become sucked into a distorted view of reality and often drag themselves and their families into insecurity and poverty. This is not just a matter of personal morality and character but a problem exacerbated by the values communicated by the wider social and policy contexts."

In 2007 68 per cent of people gambled in the past year. This is compared to 73 per cent in 2010. By one of the two research screens used problem gambling rose from 0.6 per cent to 0.9 per cent. It is estimated that there are between 360-450,000 problem gamblers in the UK - compared to 284 000 in 2007.

Daniel Webster, of the Evangelical Alliance, said: "There must be an immediate halt to any further relaxation of gambling rules. Changes to gaming machines planned by the Government could easily make this situation worse."

In the past year nearly three quarters of the population took part in some form of gambling, if the National Lottery is excluded this figure falls to 56 per cent which has risen from 48 per cent in 2007.

Paul Morrison, of the Methodist Church, said: "Problem gambling is an important social problem that can cause real misery in personal and family life. The Government must act to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected."

The report finds that problem gamblers are more likely to be young men, in poor health and have a family history of problem gambling.

Helena Chambers of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs noted: "Problem gamblers and their families often suffer stress, ill-health and debt. It is vital that they are supported, and the Government does not risk any further increase."

The Churches call on the Government to allow local councils to limit the number of gambling premises in their areas.

Gareth Wallace, of the Salvation Army, said: "There are now nearly half a million problem gamblers in this country. This is far too many and the Government must not go ahead with their plans to raise the stakes of gaming machines and permit arcades and bingo halls to increase their number."

Due to Government cuts the Gambling Commission suggested that this could be the last prevalence study of this kind. Mr Wallace went on to say: "With increased problem gambling the government must fund another equivalent prevalence study. This is not the time to be walking blindfolded into an increase in problem gambling."

According to this report, 14 per cent of people now use the internet to gamble. Lauri Moyle of CARE, said: "This shows how essential it is that the Government urgently develop a rigorous framework for ensuring that internet gambling is properly regulated."

Although only comprising four per cent of gambling activity the use of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the gaming machines only allowed in betting shops, were cited in 25 per cent of calls to the gambling helpline.

Reverend Ian Galloway, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said: "I'm deeply troubled about the level of problem gambling associated with gaming machines. This form of gambling is solitary and repetitive and high value machines in betting shops make every High Street a casino." 

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