20 November 2003

Gambling bill must go further to safeguard children and the vulnerable

The Methodist Church says that the Draft Gambling Bill published today goes some way towards providing protection for children against plans for deregulation, but needs to go further to safeguard them from the risks intrinsic to gambling.

A Methodist spokesperson, Rachel Lampard, said today: "We are delighted to see that Tessa Jowell has said that gambling and children do not mix. However, this principle needs to be applied throughout the proposals. Britain is the only Western country that allows children to gamble on fruit machines. Whilst the draft bill promises to keep children away from large-prize machines, they will still have unlimited access to low-prize machines. Although a £5 prize seems trivial to an adult, to a child as young as seven or eight, this can be a significant and attractive amount of money - and undermines the message that gambling is an adult activity."

"We are encouraged by the emphasis on creating a socially responsible gambling industry, but this needs to be explicitly at the heart of the draft Bill. For many, gambling is just harmless entertainment. But for others who lose control, gambling can ruin family lives, jobs, health and result in massive debt. The requirement that gambling operators will need to abide by Codes of Social Responsibility as a condition of their licences will help. But the content of these codes is crucial: they must be rigorous and enforced from day one.

"However the codes alone will not be sufficient if the Bill fails to tackle the danger of proliferation, over-rapid deregulation and the impact of highly-addictive fruit-machines. Deregulation must not be at the expense of more problem gamblers. It must be carried out incrementally, with agreement in local communities, and accompanied by regular research into the social impact of changes.

"We remain concerned at the introduction of fruit machines with unlimited prizes at the new 'super casinos'. These machines, with their speed and ease of play, are one of the most addictive forms of gambling. Deregulation means that people will be able to walk in off to the streets to play these machines. The scrutiny committee and the Government need to take very seriously the dangers that such machines represent.

"It is important that the gambling industry takes responsibility for the treatment and support of those who are damaged by gambling. The proposed £3 million per year donation from industry profits is to be welcomed. However, this only represents an estimated £10 per problem gambler and a more realistic contribution is needed."

Ms Rachel Lampard is Methodist Church Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs.

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