Gaming reforms need to protect the vulnerable

A relaxation of gaming regulations inBritain must ensure that those at most risk of harm from gamblingare protected, says a senior officer for the Methodist Church.

This verdict follows the publicationtoday of an independent review by the Department for Culture, Mediaand Sport (DCMS), which paves the way for the most significantreform of gaming rules for three decades.

The Methodist Church accepts that newregulation for the gaming industry is overdue but reforms must notbe allowed to become a 'free-for-all'. The Church's Secretary forParliamentary and Political Affairs, Ms Rachel Lampard, stressedtoday that "for some people, gambling harms. General deregulationmust be accompanied by greater protection for vulnerablegroups".

Ms Lampard stressed the followingpoints:

  • A welcome to the commitment not toallow young people to be exposed to the dangers of gambling.

  • Concern about the relaxation of someregulations for casinos - in particular over the 24-hour rule andthe selling of alcohol on casino floors.

  • A suggestion that a percentage ofprofits made by casinos and other gaming companies should be setaside to fund charities helping those suffering from gamblingaddictions.

Ms Lampard said: "Research suggeststhat the earlier children start gambling, the more likely they areto develop serious problems as young adults. In any forthcomingconsultation, it will be vital to make the case for much greaterprotection for children and young people.

"The report makes proposals to removelimits on prizes in jackpot machines in casinos and clubs. Inreturn the Government might take the opportunity to send a strongsignal that it recognises the dangerous lure of bigger jackpots toyoung people by removing slot machines from public places wherechildren can play them."

"Of greatest concern is so-called'hard' gambling - activities which are repetitive, allow people tochase their losses rapidly, believing they will win next time, andis often conducted in a social environment. This is particularlytrue where alcohol is available. For some people 'hard' gamblingcan become compulsive, and destroy families, jobs and lives. Suchhard gambling will always require tougher regulation to minimiseharm."

"We have reservations about some ofthe freedoms that casinos will gain. Relaxation of the 24-hour rulemight encourage impulse gambling. And allowing alcohol on the floorof casinos doesn't help you to make wise decisions on betting."

"Where reforms lead to a growth incasinos and other gaming premises, planning needs to be sensitiveto local people's feelings. We hope that the Government recognisesthis as it takes soundings on the proposals. Some groupsunderstandably fear that the deregulation of gaming will hit localbusinesses and harm their environment."

"It is right that more help should begiven to people adversely affected by gambling. The gaming industryand the Government could give more support to charities such as thetelephone helpline run by GamCare. We warmly welcome therecommendation that increased funding be made available by the NHSfor the treatment of problem gambling."

"If the gaming industry is to be givengreater freedoms, then it must also accept greaterresponsibilities, both to its customers and to society atlarge."

The independent review by former chiefeconomic adviser to the Treasury, Sir Alan Budd, which led to thepublication of today's DCMS report, sought the views of churchesand charities towards reforms. A submission was made in July 2000by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland on behalf of all themajor UK Christian Churches including the Methodist Church.

This submission said that regulator"should seek to combine the greatest degree of personal freedomwith the least risk of harm". It also called for restrictions onadvertising casinos and other gaming opportunities to be kept inplace.

The Methodist Church intends to studythe full 260-page independent review and hopes to make a detailedsubmission to the DCMS in due course.