07 April 2004

Gambling Committee confirm fears of increased 'problem gambling'

The joint committee on the Draft Gambling bill has stated in its own report that the new bill will lead to an increase in problem gambling. This echoes the fears of organisations including The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church, who both gave oral evidence to the committee.

The Government had stated that the main purposes of the legislation are to keep crime out of gambling, ensure gambling is fair to gamblers and to protect children and vulnerable people from the negative effects of gambling. However overwhelming evidence presented to the committee signalled a rise in problem gambling was virtually inevitable.

Jonathan Lomax, Public Affairs Officer for The Salvation Army: "We are not surprised that the committee has accepted that problem gambling will rise as a result of some of the measures included in the Draft bill. We are disappointed, however, that this is seen as an acceptable price to pay for more gambling opportunities, especially given the lack of public demand for them.

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 committee's conclusion directly contradicts Tessa Jowell's statement to the committee when she said that the bill would not lead to an increase in problem gambling, and if it did then 'it would have failed and it would be bad legislation'. "It is now up to the Secretary of State to put on record why she thinks problem gambling will not increase, contrary to all the other expert evidence," commented Jonathan Lomax.

The two organisations welcome the fact that the committee has recommended the prohibition of fruit machines from unlicensed places such as fish-and-chip shops and minicab offices. However, they are disappointed that the committee has advocated maintaining Britain's unique position in the world in allowing children to gamble on low-value fruit machines.

Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs for The Methodist Church added, "Despite hearing evidence from experts to the contrary, the committee has come to the conclusion that there is an 'absence of sufficient evidence' that children playing fruit machines leads to an increased incidence of problem gambling. Yet there's no evidence that shows definitively that playing on fruit machines is a safe pastime for children. We call on the government to put the safety of children first and prohibit children from playing any fruit machines until research proves that they are safe."

Mark Vickers (22), from London and studying Marketing in Manchester and volunteering for The Salvation Army, started gambling at 14 and soon became addicted, with slot machines playing an important part in his addiction. "It's the buzz of winning that made me addicted, moving on from low winning games to higher prizes. I went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting once and there were loads of people there under 20, so you can't tell me that gambling under the age of 18 isn't harmful."

Positive outcomes of the report include agreeing that the number of fruit machines allowed in casinos should be capped, and that the Committee have accepted that the gambling industry must act responsibly, particularly towards children and vulnerable people, in order to gain and keep licences.

Rachel Lampard continued, "When granting licences the Gambling Commission should be required to 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. "

The Methodist Church and The Salvation Army were also disappointed to see the committee agree with relaxed rules on drinking on gaming floors in casinos. Jonathan Lomax 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. In an NOP poll commissioned by The Salvation Army 82% of the population thought that people were more likely to lose money if they drank alcohol while gambling."

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