Monitor, evaluate and invest!

In light of today's announcement by the Casino Advisory Panelthat Manchester is the preferred location for the UK's firstsupercasino, a challenge has been issued by The Salvation Army andthe Methodist Church, who have long campaigned on gamblingissues.

'We expect the government to keep to their promises of propermonitoring and evaluation of the social as well as the economicimpact of these increased opportunities to gamble,' saidLieutenant-Colonel Royston Bartlett, Secretary for Communicationsfor The Salvation Army.

'Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the new casinos along withthe increasing popularity of online gambling and the generalnormalisation of gambling within this country, could result in manymore people developing a serious gambling addiction over anextended period,' said Anthea Cox, Co-ordinating Secretary forPublic Life and Social Justice at the Methodist Church.

'The gambling industry and the government will benefit most fromthe huge profits of these increased gambling opportunities. We arechallenging them to channel substantial resources to help thosemany thousands, if not millions of people who will experienceproblems,' said Ms Cox.

The new Gambling Act gives the green light to one regional casino,8 large casinos and 8 small casinos. The one regional casino, orso-called 'super casino', will contain hard forms of gambling thathave never been seen before in the UK, including unlimited-jackpotmachines. Machine gambling has highly addictive properties, and thelure of mega-prizes can only further compound this danger.

There are already an estimated 370,000 problem gamblers in the UKand the Methodist Church and The Salvation Army have long warnedthat any increase in gambling opportunities could lead to a rise inproblem gambling. There is no evidence to show what effect aregional casino may have on a UK community but experience in the USshows a rise in gambling-related debt, crime, bankruptcy, andassociated social problems including unemployment and familybreakdown. The social costs of gambling extend far beyond theindividual gambler, impacting upon family, friends, employers,communities and indeed the country as a whole. In an NOP pollcommissioned by The Salvation Army, 56% of the population, and 64%of women, said they would not be happy for a casino to open wherethey live*.

The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church campaigned during thepassage of the Gambling Bill, requesting greater measures toprotect children and vulnerable people, including limiting thenumber of regional casinos to one, so that thorough research can bedone into its impact on the community it is built in.

'The Gambling Act includes provision for the proper monitoring ofthe effects of these increased gambling opportunities and we willbe among those who will be keeping an eye on the situation toensure that the government keeps to its promises!' said Anthea Coxfrom the Methodist Church.

'As it currently stands, the minimum evaluation period of threeyears will be measured from the award of the first casino licenseunder the 2005 Act. Given that there could be a considerable amountof time between the license being awarded and the casino actuallyopening, the evaluation period could potentially be considerablyless than three years in real terms.'

'The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church are calling for amonitoring and evaluation period of at least three years from thetime that the casinos open their doors, with a provision toincrease that monitoring to five years if required.'

'Much has been made of the potential economic benefit of casinosbut that needs to be balanced against the potential devastatingeffects of problem gambling on individuals, families andcommunities,' added Lieut-Colonel Royston Bartlett from TheSalvation Army.

'Britain is already fast becoming a culture obsessed with gambling.Only through meticulous and objective evaluation of the socialeffects of increased gambling over an extended period will we beginto understand the long term damage that may result from theincreased availability of gambling products made possible under bythe new 2005 Gambling Act.'

'Whilst the government has promised monitoring they must also becommitted to action if it is proved that the increasedopportunities to gamble are indeed ruining lives, and communities.It is also vital that resources for education, prevention andtreatment are made available and both the government and thegambling industry must be prepared to foot the bill.'

* NOP poll was conducted by telephone between 28-30th November 2003amongst a nationally representative sample of 973 adults aged 18and over.