30 January 2007

Monitor, evaluate and invest!

In light of today's announcement by the Casino Advisory Panel that Manchester is the preferred location for the UK's first supercasino, a challenge has been issued by The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church, who have long campaigned on gambling issues.

'We expect the government to keep to their promises of proper monitoring and evaluation of the social as well as the economic impact of these increased opportunities to gamble,' said Lieutenant-Colonel Royston Bartlett, Secretary for Communications for The Salvation Army.

'Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the new casinos along with the increasing popularity of online gambling and the general normalisation of gambling within this country, could result in many more people developing a serious gambling addiction over an extended period,' said Anthea Cox, Co-ordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice at the Methodist Church.

'The gambling industry and the government will benefit most from the huge profits of these increased gambling opportunities. We are challenging them to channel substantial resources to help those many thousands, if not millions of people who will experience problems,' said Ms Cox.

The new Gambling Act gives the green light to one regional casino, 8 large casinos and 8 small casinos. The one regional casino, or so-called 'super casino', will contain hard forms of gambling that have never been seen before in the UK, including unlimited-jackpot machines. Machine gambling has highly addictive properties, and the lure of mega-prizes can only further compound this danger.

There are already an estimated 370,000 problem gamblers in the UK and the Methodist Church and The Salvation Army have long warned that any increase in gambling opportunities could lead to a rise in problem gambling. There is no evidence to show what effect a regional casino may have on a UK community but experience in the US shows a rise in gambling-related debt, crime, bankruptcy, and associated social problems including unemployment and family breakdown. The social costs of gambling extend far beyond the individual gambler, impacting upon family, friends, employers, communities and indeed the country as a whole. In an NOP poll commissioned by The Salvation Army, 56% of the population, and 64% of women, said they would not be happy for a casino to open where they live*.

The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church campaigned during the passage of the Gambling Bill, requesting greater measures to protect children and vulnerable people, including limiting the number of regional casinos to one, so that thorough research can be done into its impact on the community it is built in.

'The Gambling Act includes provision for the proper monitoring of the effects of these increased gambling opportunities and we will be among those who will be keeping an eye on the situation to ensure that the government keeps to its promises!' said Anthea Cox from the Methodist Church.

'As it currently stands, the minimum evaluation period of three years will be measured from the award of the first casino license under the 2005 Act. Given that there could be a considerable amount of time between the license being awarded and the casino actually opening, the evaluation period could potentially be considerably less than three years in real terms.'

'The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church are calling for a monitoring and evaluation period of at least three years from the time that the casinos open their doors, with a provision to increase that monitoring to five years if required.'

'Much has been made of the potential economic benefit of casinos but that needs to be balanced against the potential devastating effects of problem gambling on individuals, families and communities,' added Lieut-Colonel Royston Bartlett from The Salvation Army.

'Britain is already fast becoming a culture obsessed with gambling. Only through meticulous and objective evaluation of the social effects of increased gambling over an extended period will we begin to understand the long term damage that may result from the increased availability of gambling products made possible under by the new 2005 Gambling Act.'

'Whilst the government has promised monitoring they must also be committed to action if it is proved that the increased opportunities to gamble are indeed ruining lives, and communities. It is also vital that resources for education, prevention and treatment are made available and both the government and the gambling industry must be prepared to foot the bill.'

* NOP poll was conducted by telephone between 28-30th November 2003 amongst a nationally representative sample of 973 adults aged 18 and over.

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