Gambling Committee confirm fears of increased 'problem gambling'

The joint committee on the Draft Gambling bill has stated in itsown report that the new bill will lead to an increase in problemgambling. This echoes the fears of organisations including TheSalvation Army and The Methodist Church, who both gave oralevidence to the committee.

The Government had stated that the main purposes of the legislationare to keep crime out of gambling, ensure gambling is fair togamblers and to protect children and vulnerable people from thenegative effects of gambling. However overwhelming evidencepresented to the committee signalled a rise in problem gambling wasvirtually inevitable.

Jonathan Lomax, Public Affairs Officer for The Salvation Army: "Weare not surprised that the committee has accepted that problemgambling will rise as a result of some of the measures included inthe Draft bill. We are disappointed, however, that this is seen asan acceptable price to pay for more gambling opportunities,especially given the lack of public demand for them.

An NOP poll commissioned by The Salvation Army* found that 93% ofthe public felt that there were enough opportunities to gamble inthe UK already. This lack of demand begs the question as to whypotentially harmful expansion is taking place."

The committee's conclusion directly contradicts Tessa Jowell'sstatement to the committee when she said that the bill would notlead to an increase in problem gambling, and if it did then 'itwould have failed and it would be bad legislation'. "It is now upto the Secretary of State to put on record why she thinks problemgambling will not increase, contrary to all the other expertevidence," commented Jonathan Lomax.

The two organisations welcome the fact that the committee hasrecommended the prohibition of fruit machines from unlicensedplaces such as fish-and-chip shops and minicab offices. However,they are disappointed that the committee has advocated maintainingBritain's unique position in the world in allowing children togamble on low-value fruit machines.

Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairsfor The Methodist Church added, "Despite hearing evidence fromexperts to the contrary, the committee has come to the conclusionthat there is an 'absence of sufficient evidence' that childrenplaying fruit machines leads to an increased incidence of problemgambling. Yet there's no evidence that shows definitively thatplaying on fruit machines is a safe pastime for children. We callon the government to put the safety of children first and prohibitchildren from playing any fruit machines until research proves thatthey are safe."

Mark Vickers (22), from London and studying Marketing in Manchesterand volunteering for The Salvation Army, started gambling at 14 andsoon became addicted, with slot machines playing an important partin his addiction. "It's the buzz of winning that made me addicted,moving on from low winning games to higher prizes. I went to aGamblers Anonymous meeting once and there were loads of peoplethere under 20, so you can't tell me that gambling under the age of18 isn't harmful."

Positive outcomes of the report include agreeing that the number offruit machines allowed in casinos should be capped, and that theCommittee have accepted that the gambling industry must actresponsibly, particularly towards children and vulnerable people,in order to gain and keep licences.

Rachel Lampard continued, "When granting licences the GamblingCommission should be required to examine an operator's demonstrablecommitment to social responsibility, alongside standards ofcorporate integrity and financial probity. Social Responsibilityhas to be at the heart of the bill to limit the harm that gamblingcan cause in people's lives. "

The Methodist Church and The Salvation Army were also disappointedto see the committee agree with relaxed rules on drinking on gamingfloors in casinos. Jonathan Lomax said, "Gambling of any kindrequires advanced mental processes, all of which are impaired bythe consumption of alcohol. We believe the introduction of alcoholto casino gaming floors is a mistake that can only lead people tolose more money. In an NOP poll commissioned by The Salvation Army82% of the population thought that people were more likely to losemoney if they drank alcohol while gambling."