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24 July 2012

Green light for more hard gambling on the high street

Green light for more hard gambling on the high street

Giving the go-ahead for more gaming machines on the high street threatens to trigger a surge in problem gambling, say Church groups as parliament reveals its report into gambling.

The report recommends scrapping the upper limit of four high-risk B2 machines that betting shops can have on their premises. It then expects local authorities to enforce that limit but doesn't give it power to stop the number of betting shops on the high street.

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

"They didn't listen to the 29 per cent of callers to the gambling helpline citing these machines as problems, but backed an industry wanting to make a profit out of the pockets of the poorest."

Published by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, The Gambling Act 2005: A bet worth taking? is a look into the gambling industry in light of the 2005 Gambling Act. One of the stated aims of the Gambling Act is the 'protection of children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling'.

The report follows a year-long inquiry into the implementation and effectiveness of the Gambling Act and makes wide-ranging recommendations for changes to the law. It acknowledges that the introduction of a 'super-casino' is now unlikely but encourages gambling to be viewed as a normal entertainment activity and takes an approach throughout the report to support liberalisation of the rules and regulations.

Currently betting shops and casinos are the only premises permitted to have a maximum of four B2 machines. The committee suggests that for casinos this limit is raised to 20, and local authorities have the discretion to raise the limit for betting shops to whatever they deem suitable. Under the proposals gaming arcades would also be allowed the same allocation as betting shops.

Church groups gave evidence to the committee last year calling for more to be done to protect those with gambling problems and to regulate the industry effectively.

"This is a one-way street towards more addictive gambling machines in our communities" said Gareth Wallace from the Salvation Army in response to the report. "Betting shops are making more and more profit from virtual games, away from real horses.

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

Chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, said: "Gambling is now widely accepted in the UK as a legitimate entertainment activity. The 'reluctantly permissive' tone of gambling legislation over the last 50 years now looks outdated. It is also inadequate to cope with the realities of the global market in online gambling, and even seems ill-equipped to cope with the realities on our high streets."

The churches welcomed calls by the committee for further comparable research on problem gambling rates and the introduction of a national system of self-exclusion regulated by the Gambling Commission. However, their recommendations did not mention this proposal in relation to remote gambling.

Dr Daniel Boucher, Director of Parliamentary Affairs for CARE said: "It is very welcome that the committee recommended a national system for self-exclusion which would be of great benefit for people dealing with an addiction, however it is odd and rather inconsistent that they do not mention this proposal in relation to remote gambling which is as important if not more so due to the easy access to numerous gambling websites."

James North, of the Methodist Church, said: "We believe the Select Committee has missed an important opportunity to halt the normalisation of hard gambling on our high streets. Category B2 gaming machines are strongly implicated in problem gambling. The Committee should have focused on reducing the availability of these dangerous machines."

Helena Chambers, of Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, noted: "The Select Committee has not given the increase in problem gambling the priority it deserves.  Around 100,000 more individuals and their families have suffered from problem gambling since the Gambling Act of 2005.  The committee recommends more local powers, but does not give local authorities the central power they need - to limit gambling outlets if they feel they already have too many."