The Methodist Church seeks to make its voice heard on issues of social concern and justice.

What is the history of Methodist concerns about gambling?

The Methodist Church has a long-established concern about gambling, particularly when it is seen as a way of gaining money at others' expense, and for the victims of gambling.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, described gambling as a means of gain inconsistent with love of neighbour. He explicitly condemned gamblers who "made a trade of seizing on young and inexperienced men, and tricking them out of all their money". However, Wesley was not opposed to all forms of gambling, particularly 'softer' forms. For example, speaking of lotteries he said "I never bought a lottery ticket myself, but I blame not those who do."

In the 19th century, Methodists ranked gambling alongside alcohol as a threat to the moral, financial and spiritual well-being of the poor. At a time when many people lived on the margins of poverty, an ill-advised or unlucky gamble could mean the difference for a family between food and starvation, survival and the workhouse. Gambling was thus an important moral issue for 19th century Methodists.

The 1936 Declaration on Gambling of the Methodist Conference (the decision-making body of the Methodist Church) argued that "belief in luck cannot be reconciled with faith in God". Furthermore gambling undermined the "binding ties of human fellowship". Gambling was seen as the desire for gain at another's loss, in opposition to the Christian life of self-sacrifice.

What is the Methodist Church's current position on gambling?

Through the 20th and 21st century, the Church's view on gambling has developed.

Although many Methodists still don't gamble, the Church doesn't take a prohibitionist approach. Instead we look to ensure that gambling doesn't harm children and vulnerable people.  Gambling is still therefore a moral issue.  Changes in society mean that it is seen more as a leisure activity, but it is important to distinguish between hard and soft, and to focus on the kind of gambling that does damage.

'Soft' forms of gambling include activities such as raffle tickets and even the National Lottery weekly draw. 'Harder' forms of gambling typically include activities where there is the opportunity for high stakes and prizes, rapid re-staking and chasing losses.

These harder forms of gambling include casino table games, gaming machines and gambling in betting shops, and are much more addictive and harmful. The must also remain alert to signs of the progressive 'normalisation' of gambling. This means ensuring that even forms of gambling that are common and may be classed as low-risk (eg the National Lottery) do not become gateways to harder and more dangerous gambling.

Since the liberalisation of gambling that followed the Gambling Act 2005, the landscape in which gambling operates has changed in ways that neither the Government not the Churches could have expected. Online gambling and increased gambling advertising mean that far more people, and sectors of society that may have had less access to harder forms of gambling are now potentially at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

Ultimately, as the Church said in a statement in 1992, it is important therefore 'to heed the experience of our tradition in our concerns for the serious evils of gambling; but also to avoid the heavy-footed pursuit of the trivial'.

Is gambling allowed in Methodist churches?

Methodist churches are now, under Standing Order 924, allowed to hold small raffles on Methodist premises where the sum expended on prizes does not exceed £50, none of the prizes may be cash prizes, and the raffle must not be 'a substantial inducement' for persons to attend the event. No other forms of gambling are permitted on Methodist premises or at Methodist events.

What does the Methodist Church do for problem gamblers?

There are an estimated third of a million problem gamblers in Britain, for whom gambling compromises their lives, relationships, ability to hold down a job, and even health. However the true number of those who are suffering harm due to gambling is higher – a further million are categorised as being 'at risk' of becoming problem gamblers The Methodist Church has remained true to its concerns for the 'serious evils of gambling' by making its premises open to meetings of Gamblers Anonymous and by providing services to people who require treatment for addictions.

What is the Church's involvement in changes to gambling legislation?

The Church has also been very active in the development of public policy on gambling, particularly in pressing for measures to protect children and vulnerable people. Prior to the 2005 Gambling Act it gave written and oral evidence to Parliamentary select committees and the Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, and campaigned alongside other Churches to highlight concerns around the proposals. In 2011 the Methodist Church was again called to give written and oral evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee about the impact of the Gambling Act 2005. It continues to engage with regulators and other bodies to ensure that debates around gambling and public policy reflects the concerns of the Church.

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