Young people should be protected from gambling dangers

The Methodist Church is calling for strong safeguards to protectyoung people from the dangers of gambling. In response torecommendations that the gaming industry be deregulated, theMethodist Church welcomes plans to increase the age limit oncertain forms of gambling.

But a Methodist Church submission, sent to the Government thisweek, stresses that "18 should be the minimum age for allgambling". It voices particular concern that the recommendations donot fully tackle the use of gaming machines by young people.

The submission, prepared by the Methodist Secretary forParliamentary and Political Affairs, Ms Rachel Lampard, says: "Wewarmly welcome the proposal to remove gaming machines fromunlicensed premises. However, we do not believe that children andyoung people should be permitted to play gaming machines atall."

"Britain is alone in Western Europe and the US in allowingunder-18s to gamble. Research suggests that the earlier a youngperson starts gambling, the more likely they are to developproblems as young adults."

"The age restriction for fruit-machines should be raised to 18across the board when the other reforms are introduced. It is notsufficient to propose reviewing the situation five years down theline." For similar reasons, the minimum age for playing theNational Lottery should be set to 18 also.

"Some will argue that it is important for children to learnabout gambling in a controlled, family environment. However visitsto arcades on piers or 'family amusement centres' suggest that thisform of gambling is no longer conducted within a familyenvironment. Children and young people still need to learn aboutresponsible gambling, but arcades are not the places to dothis."

The submission goes on to say that casinos and other gamingbusinesses will need to demonstrate their commitment to sociallyresponsible practices if they are to be allowed to expand greatlyunder the proposed shake-up of laws.

This social responsibility should extend beyond companiesproviding money to care for problem gamblers. They should alsodevelop business practices that help to prevent addictive behaviouras well as fund research, through a voluntary or statutory levy.Positive measures might include "training for staff, corporatepolicies or testing that new games do not appeal disproportionatelyto vulnerable people," says Ms Lampard.

The Methodist Church welcomes proposals to introduce a new body,the Gambling Commission, to oversee all aspects of gambling. Butthere is a warning that the deregulation must not happen sospeedily that the Commission cannot cope.

Methodists and other residents in resort towns like Blackpoolhave expressed particular fears that new "super casinos" will dolittle to help local economic and social regeneration. There mustbe safeguards to protect local businesses and offer support toproblem gamblers in the face of major new resort casinos.

Reflecting these concerns, the Methodist Church submission saysthat "although some low-paid jobs may be created by the proposed"resort casinos", many local businesses would lose out, as peoplecame to visit what is essentially a 'walled economy'." Both localand national Government will need to come up with creativesolutions to offset such losses.

There should be protection for those people for whom gambling isharmful, and support for those with addiction problems. "There isstill insufficient research into the impact of gambling - both onthe 'problem-free' gambler and on the problem gambler - and wewould applaud the profile given to the need for further researchwithin a managed rolling programme."

The Methodist Church submission also calls for:

  • Alcohol to be kept separate from gaming tables.
  • A strong code of practice to cover new freedoms for gambling onthe internet.
  • Restrictions on the advertising of gaming products andvenues.
  • The use of credit cards in gambling should be resisted.

In detail, there is a strong warning that casinos should keepbars serving alcoholic drinks separate from gaming tables: "It iswidely accepted that alcohol makes people gamble more, and gambleless wisely. Allowing people to drink at the tables is not likelyto encourage wiser gambling, or more responsible drinking."

The policing of greater online gambling will be an enormouschallenge. It would be helpful to have a Gambling Commission"gateway" to licensed websites offering gambling. Payment should bemade by bank cards which are available only to over 18s. Realitychecks such as clocks, counters, pauses between games or requestsfor confirmation to continue, should be prominently displayed.

The need for a strict code on advertising should gamingbusinesses be allowed more advertising freedoms. This shouldinclude penalties for breaches. Other measures should include"warnings, similar to those found on cigarettes, mortgages andfinancial products, would be appropriate. Prohibitions, similar tothose placed on alcopops, should be used to prevent productsappealing specifically to children or young people".

Comments from the gaming industry and other social bodies,responding to the recommendations of the Gambling Review Group,were sought by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by31 October.

The recommendations for reforming the gaming industry were setout in a 260-page document published in July by the independentGambling Review Group chaired by Sir Alan Budd. The group wastasked by the Government with reviewing the current state ofgambling and the gaming industry, with the exception of theNational Lottery.