30 October 2001

Young people should be protected from gambling dangers

The Methodist Church is calling for strong safeguards to protect young people from the dangers of gambling. In response to recommendations that the gaming industry be deregulated, the Methodist Church welcomes plans to increase the age limit on certain forms of gambling.

But a Methodist Church submission, sent to the Government this week, stresses that "18 should be the minimum age for all gambling". It voices particular concern that the recommendations do not fully tackle the use of gaming machines by young people.

The submission, prepared by the Methodist Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs, Ms Rachel Lampard, says: "We warmly welcome the proposal to remove gaming machines from unlicensed premises. However, we do not believe that children and young people should be permitted to play gaming machines at all."

"Britain is alone in Western Europe and the US in allowing under-18s to gamble. Research suggests that the earlier a young person starts gambling, the more likely they are to develop problems as young adults."

"The age restriction for fruit-machines should be raised to 18 across the board when the other reforms are introduced. It is not sufficient to propose reviewing the situation five years down the line." For similar reasons, the minimum age for playing the National Lottery should be set to 18 also.

"Some will argue that it is important for children to learn about gambling in a controlled, family environment. However visits to arcades on piers or 'family amusement centres' suggest that this form of gambling is no longer conducted within a family environment. Children and young people still need to learn about responsible gambling, but arcades are not the places to do this."

The submission goes on to say that casinos and other gaming businesses will need to demonstrate their commitment to socially responsible practices if they are to be allowed to expand greatly under the proposed shake-up of laws.

This social responsibility should extend beyond companies providing money to care for problem gamblers. They should also develop business practices that help to prevent addictive behaviour as well as fund research, through a voluntary or statutory levy. Positive measures might include "training for staff, corporate policies or testing that new games do not appeal disproportionately to vulnerable people," says Ms Lampard.

The Methodist Church welcomes proposals to introduce a new body, the Gambling Commission, to oversee all aspects of gambling. But there is a warning that the deregulation must not happen so speedily that the Commission cannot cope.

Methodists and other residents in resort towns like Blackpool have expressed particular fears that new "super casinos" will do little to help local economic and social regeneration. There must be safeguards to protect local businesses and offer support to problem gamblers in the face of major new resort casinos.

Reflecting these concerns, the Methodist Church submission says that "although some low-paid jobs may be created by the proposed "resort casinos", many local businesses would lose out, as people came to visit what is essentially a 'walled economy'." Both local and national Government will need to come up with creative solutions to offset such losses.

There should be protection for those people for whom gambling is harmful, and support for those with addiction problems. "There is still insufficient research into the impact of gambling - both on the 'problem-free' gambler and on the problem gambler - and we would applaud the profile given to the need for further research within a managed rolling programme."

The Methodist Church submission also calls for:

  • Alcohol to be kept separate from gaming tables.
  • A strong code of practice to cover new freedoms for gambling on the internet.
  • Restrictions on the advertising of gaming products and venues.
  • The use of credit cards in gambling should be resisted.

In detail, there is a strong warning that casinos should keep bars serving alcoholic drinks separate from gaming tables: "It is widely accepted that alcohol makes people gamble more, and gamble less wisely. Allowing people to drink at the tables is not likely to encourage wiser gambling, or more responsible drinking."

The policing of greater online gambling will be an enormous challenge. It would be helpful to have a Gambling Commission "gateway" to licensed websites offering gambling. Payment should be made by bank cards which are available only to over 18s. Reality checks such as clocks, counters, pauses between games or requests for confirmation to continue, should be prominently displayed.

The need for a strict code on advertising should gaming businesses be allowed more advertising freedoms. This should include penalties for breaches. Other measures should include "warnings, similar to those found on cigarettes, mortgages and financial products, would be appropriate. Prohibitions, similar to those placed on alcopops, should be used to prevent products appealing specifically to children or young people".

Comments from the gaming industry and other social bodies, responding to the recommendations of the Gambling Review Group, were sought by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by 31 October.

The recommendations for reforming the gaming industry were set out in a 260-page document published in July by the independent Gambling Review Group chaired by Sir Alan Budd. The group was tasked by the Government with reviewing the current state of gambling and the gaming industry, with the exception of the National Lottery.

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