Churches voice concern at proposed liberalisation of gambling

 The Salvation Army and The Methodist Church warned yesterday that the Government's gambling proposals are likely to cause a rise in problem gambling. The two churches, which have consistently argued for better protection for vulnerable people, feel that the expansion of a leisure activity is still being given precedence over the welfare of thousands of people whose lives are ruined by problem gambling. Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political Affairs for the Methodist Church said: "The parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling bill echoed our fears that problem gambling would rise as a result of some of the measures included in the Draft bill. We are disappointed, that the Government still sees more problem gambling as an acceptable price to pay for more gambling opportunities. " Jonathan Lomax, Public Affairs Officer for The Salvation Army: "There is absolutely no public demand for a liberalisation of the UK's gambling regulations. An NOP poll commissioned by The Salvation Army found that 93% of the public felt that there were enough opportunities to gamble in the UK already. This lack of demand begs the question as to why potentially harmful expansion is taking place." The two churches said they were pleased that the Government has listened to concerns expressed by churches, charities and academics, and now proposes removing fruit machines from unlicensed premises such as fish and chip shops and mini cab offices. However, there is disappointment that children and young people will still be allowed to play fruit machines in some arcades. "It is very disappointing that the Government proposes to maintain Britain's unique position in the world in allowing children to gamble on low-value fruit machines," said Jonathan Lomax. "By removing fruit machines from unlicensed premises the Government has already accepted that fruit machines are unsafe for children. If this is the case, the Government must explain why they are safe in arcades where children are free to enter without an adult." Commenting on the Government's inclusion of a reserve power to remove alcohol from gaming floors if it leads to an increase in problem gambling, Jonathan Lomax from The Salvation Army said: "Gambling of any kind requires advanced mental processes, all of which are impaired by the consumption of alcohol. We believe the introduction of alcohol to casino gaming floors is a mistake that can only lead people to lose more money. This view is supported by 82% of the population who think that people are more likely to lose money if they drink alcohol while gambling. The reserve power to remove alcohol from gaming floors included in the Government's proposal is completely inadequate, as it allows a problem to emerge first before addressing it."

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