26 March 2002

Methodist concerns after gambling White Paper published

Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs for the Methodist Church, made the following statement on the launch of the Government's proposals for the regulation of gambling, 'A Safe Bet for Success', today:

Our concern about gambling is based on the fact that for some people gambling can be extremely harmful. The role of gambling regulation is to minimise this harm. Our response to the proposals is therefore mixed.

This is the first serious review for over 20 years, and gambling practice has changed enormously in this time. However we strongly believe that any deregulation has to go hand in hand with an increased commitment to social responsibility.

Social responsibility involves the Government and the gambling industry taking seriously the need to tackle problem or addictive gambling. We therefore welcome the explicit commitment to social responsibility in the Government's proposals.

We welcome the establishment of a Single Regulator for gambling. Given the explosion in international on-line gambling, we welcome the proposal to introduce strict regulation of British on-line gambling sites. Regulated sites will reduce the potential harm of on-line gambling by demanding high standards and awarding "kite marks".

We also welcome the greater restrictions to be placed on children's access to gaming machines. However we feel that this should cover all fruit machines. Children are still to be allowed access to certain machines, which, although they have "low-stakes/low-prizes", can still amount to significant sums of money for a child. Evidence shows that the earlier that a young person begins gambling, the more likely they are to develop problems with gambling as young adults. The UK is the only western country that allows children to gamble. Gambling should be a pursuit only for adults and we are disappointed that the Government does not plan to enforce this.

We are also concerned that some of the deregulation proposed for casinos will increase just the kind of impulsive and uncontrolled gambling that can fuel addiction, particularly if alcohol is served at gambling tables.

We also have doubts that resort casinos will be the "golden geese" that many people hope. Evidence from the US suggests that, far from being engines of economic regeneration, Resort Casinos can suck income away from existing businesses. It will be important for local authorities to listen to the concerns and wishes of local people before rushing ahead.

Overall it is important that the Government proceeds with caution. Research must be carried out into the likely impact of deregulation and the potential dangers to vulnerable people, and the gambling industry must show a demonstrable commitment to social responsibility before deregulation is authorised.

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