Green light for more hard gambling on the high street

Giving the go-ahead for more gaming machines on the high streetthreatens to trigger a surge in problem gambling, Church groups sayas Parliament reveals its report into gambling.

The report recommends scraping the upper limit of four high-riskB2 machines that betting shops are allowed to have on theirpremises. The report also expects local authorities to apply limitsto the maximum number of machines in betting shops, but doesn'tgive power to the local authorities to stop the spread of bettingshops on the high street.

"This is a one way bet towards more addictive gambling machinesin our communities," said Gareth Wallace from the Salvation Army."Betting shops are making more and more profit from virtual gamesaway from real horses.

"We're perplexed that the committee would recommend a furtherliberalisation of gambling machines when they heard evidence thatproblem gambling is on the rise."

Published this week by the Culture, Media and Sport SelectCommittee, the report - The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking?- looks into the gambling industry in the light of the 2005Gambling Act. One of the stated aims of the Gambling Act is the'protection of children and other vulnerable persons from beingharmed or exploited by gambling'.

Church groups gave evidence to the committee last year callingfor more to be done to protect those with gambling problems byregulating the industry effectively.

Daniel Webster of the Evangelical Alliance said: "The committeecompletely ignored the risks posed by B2 gaming machines. You canlose thousands of pounds an hour on these machines, but if thecommittee gets its way casinos will be granted more B2 machines,betting shops will be subject to no compulsory limit, and, for thefirst time, gaming arcades will be allowed to operate them.

"They didn't listen to the 22 per cent of callers to thegambling helpline citing these machines as problems, but backed anindustry wanting to make a profit out of the pockets of thepoorest."

James North of the Methodist Church said: "We believe the SelectCommittee has missed an important opportunity to halt thenormalisation of hard gambling on our high streets. Category B2gaming machines are strongly implicated in problem gambling. TheCommittee should have focused on reducing the availability of thesedangerous machines."

Helena Chambers of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs said: "TheSelect Committee has not given the increase in problem gambling thepriority it deserves. Around 100,000 more individuals and theirfamilies have suffered from problem gambling since the Gambling Actof 2005. The committee recommends more local powers, but does notgive local authorities the central power they need - to limitgambling outlets if they feel they already have too many."

The churches welcomed calls by the committee for furthercomparable research on problem gambling rates and the introductionof a national system of self-exclusion regulated by the GamblingCommission. However, their recommendations did not mention thisproposal in relation to remote gambling.

Dr. Daniel Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs for CARE,said: "It is very welcome that the Committee recommended a nationalsystem for self exclusion which would be of great benefit forpeople dealing with an addiction, however it is odd and ratherinconsistent that they do not mention this proposal in relation toremote gambling which is as important if not more so due to theeasy access to numerous gambling websites."