Gambling bill must go further to safeguard children and the vulnerable

The Methodist Church says that the Draft Gambling Bill publishedtoday goes some way towards providing protection for childrenagainst plans for deregulation, but needs to go further tosafeguard them from the risks intrinsic to gambling.

A Methodist spokesperson, Rachel Lampard, said today: "We aredelighted to see that Tessa Jowell has said that gambling andchildren do not mix. However, this principle needs to be appliedthroughout the proposals. Britain is the only Western country thatallows children to gamble on fruit machines. Whilst the draft billpromises to keep children away from large-prize machines, they willstill have unlimited access to low-prize machines. Although a £5prize seems trivial to an adult, to a child as young as seven oreight, this can be a significant and attractive amount of money -and undermines the message that gambling is an adult activity."

"We are encouraged by the emphasis on creating a sociallyresponsible gambling industry, but this needs to be explicitly atthe heart of the draft Bill. For many, gambling is just harmlessentertainment. But for others who lose control, gambling can ruinfamily lives, jobs, health and result in massive debt. Therequirement that gambling operators will need to abide by Codes ofSocial Responsibility as a condition of their licences will help.But the content of these codes is crucial: they must be rigorousand enforced from day one.

"However the codes alone will not be sufficient if the Billfails to tackle the danger of proliferation, over-rapidderegulation and the impact of highly-addictive fruit-machines.Deregulation must not be at the expense of more problem gamblers.It must be carried out incrementally, with agreement in localcommunities, and accompanied by regular research into the socialimpact of changes.

"We remain concerned at the introduction of fruit machines withunlimited prizes at the new 'super casinos'. These machines, withtheir speed and ease of play, are one of the most addictive formsof gambling. Deregulation means that people will be able to walk inoff to the streets to play these machines. The scrutiny committeeand the Government need to take very seriously the dangers thatsuch machines represent.

"It is important that the gambling industry takes responsibilityfor the treatment and support of those who are damaged by gambling.The proposed £3 million per year donation from industry profits isto be welcomed. However, this only represents an estimated £10 perproblem gambler and a more realistic contribution is needed."

Ms Rachel Lampard is Methodist Church Secretary forParliamentary and Political Affairs.