19 December 2002

Warning to Methodist churches over online casino adverts

Methodist clergy have been warned that the hosting of church websites on certain free Internet Service Providers (ISPs) runs the risk of flouting the Church's rules on advertising.

Certain ISPs offer free website hosting, making them seem attractive for small organisations like local churches with a limited budget. But, as a way of making these services viable, the ISP will run advertisement boxes on the pages of the organisation's website.

The customer has no right to object to which adverts are carried on their website, so long as the adverts meet advertising standards guidelines. But concern has now arisen over online adverts for casinos and other gaming ventures, which cannot be promoted under Methodism's own regulations.

The Secretary of the Methodist Conference - Methodism's parliament in Britain - has written to all of the 2,000 plus Methodist ministers across the country warning them of the problem.

The letter by the Rev Nigel Collinson said: "Some churches have been offered space of the web to design their own sites. These same sites also advertise casino gambling. We need to be aware of Standing Order 924(4), which says that Methodist premises may not be used to advertise or promote any form of gambling which is not permitted in Methodist churches."

Methodist officers have regularly called on the Government to ensure the effective policing of online gambling, including the creation of a kitemark for online gambling sites that meet rigorous standards for customer care. Online gambling should feature safety checks such as clocks, counters, pauses between games or requests for confirmation to continue, which should be prominently displayed.

The Methodist Church has argued for the need for a strict code on advertising by gaming businesses. Measures should include warnings, similar to those found on cigarettes, mortgages and financial products. Prohibitions, similar to those placed on alcopops, should be used to prevent products appealing specifically to children or young people.

The main website of the Methodist Church in Britain carries no adverts.

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