Act now on problem gambling, churches and charities tell parliament

A substantial increase in problem gambling in the last fouryears is unacceptable and needs urgent action, a group of nationalchurches will tell parliament today.

On Tuesday, 22 November, the Salvation Army, Quaker Action onAlcohol and Drugs, the Methodist Church, the Evangelical Allianceand CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education) will giveevidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry intogambling.

In their contribution to a parliamentary inquiry on gambling,church groups will tell the select committee that the governmentmust take action on child gambling, the clustering of betting shopsand funding independent research, education and treatment.

The 2010 prevalence study showed that the number of problemgamblers in the UK has jumped by 50 per cent to around 450,000since 2007. Problem gambling is defined as gambling to a degreethat compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal orrecreational pursuits.

One problem gambler who shared his story with the Salvation Armysaid: "Three people know of my addiction. My bookie, my bank andmyself. Only one of us is prepared to take responsibility despitethe others being legal and regulated."

James North, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Churchin Britain, commented:"The figures speak for themselves: problemgambling is on the rise. But the government seems determined toliberalise gambling laws. It is vital that the governmentunderstands the challenge posed by this worrying increase inharmful gambling and takes action to reverse it. We are also deeplyconcerned about their plans to cut the funding for the GamblingPrevalence Survey. This is the only comprehensive study of gamblingin the UK and is essential if we are to prevent and treat problemgambling."

Britain is the only country in Western Europe to allow children togamble. The Gambling Act gives the secretary of state the power toput an age limit on some or all of the machines that children areallowed to play and the churches will suggest that now is the timefor this power to be used.

Gareth Wallace, who will be giving evidence from the SalvationArmy, said: "This enquiry into the effects of the 2005 Gambling Actis long overdue. It is shocking the UK is the only major nationthat allows under-18s to gamble on fruit machines. The governmentmust commit to coming into line with the rest of the world and stopchildren from gambling. No further regulation would be needed forthis move."

The churches are increasingly concerned over the location ofbetting shops and the concentration of gaming machines in poorerareas. Reports by the Responsible Gambling Fund and Harriet HarmanMP, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, showthat betting shops and their highly addictive B2 machines (akaFixed Odds betting Terminals) are increasingly common in ourpoorest areas. Local authorities currently only have limitedgrounds to reject an application for a new betting premise.

Daniel Webster from the Evangelical Alliance insisted that: "Thegovernment must give local authorities the power to decide whatgambling activities can take place in their communities. Bettingshops can pop up anywhere and there is very little councils can doabout it. If localism is to mean anything, it has to mean thatcouncils can say no to more betting shops."

The church groups will call on the government to introduce acompulsory levy on the betting industry to fund research educationand treatment for problem gambling. The 2005 Act gives thegovernment all the necessary powers, and such a levy would providea simple and efficient solution. This is particularly necessaryfollowing the recent breakdown of the funding arrangement betweenthe fundraiser, the GREaT Foundation, and the distributor, theResponsible Gambling Fund.

Helena Chambers from Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, said: "Thetime has come for a levy on the gambling industry, as the GamblingAct allows. The level of funding for research, education and thetreatment of problem gambling needs to increase. We are deeplyconcerned, because it seems these funds will no longer bedistributed by an independent body, but by the industry itself.This involves some inevitable conflicts of interest. We need a levyand robust structures of accountability to ensure that the money isspent in the public interest. The good work that has been done ontackling issues like density must not be lost."

Lauri Moyle, representing the Christian social policy charity CARE,will also be giving evidence highlighting issues relating to onlinegambling. He said: "It is high time that the government came outwith some firm commitments and a timetable in response to theconsultation on regulating internet gambling in the UK. Theconsultation closed over a year ago and we have only had a holdingreply by the relevant department. People who suffer because ofirresponsible and unregulated gambling websites need help now. Thegovernment needs to act."