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01 May 2014

Gambling protection measures welcomed, but much more needed

Gambling protection measures welcomed, but much more needed

Local authorities will be given more power to control betting shops opening in their own areas. The coalition government made this announcement on Wednesday in an effort to see the gambling industry protect players and prioritise social responsibility. 

Gambling is a serious issue in the UK, and following deregulation in 2005 there was an explosion in opportunities to gamble. Since that time calls to gambling helplines have sky rocketed. 

The Evangelical Alliance has been involved in gambling policy for more than ten years and welcomes the government's efforts to reign in the gambling industry and curb problem gambling. Together with the Methodist Church, the Church of England, the Salvation Army, CARE and Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, the Alliance has consistently called for stronger measures to protect the vulnerable.

The Alliance sees this announcement as a step in the right direction but has concerns about whether it will be effective in curbing problem gambling.  

No details have been given on when local authorities will get these new powers, nor precisely how planning laws will change, and this information is likely to follow a consultation in the summer.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, commented: "The government needs to back up their words with action that puts real power in the hands of local councils to turn down betting shop applications they do not want. Changing the use classes and requiring planning permission for all betting shops is welcome, but councils have found it hard to turn down applications even when planning permission does need to be given."

Communities Minister Stephen Williams has said the coalition government does not want the high street dominated by betting shops, but these new powers will do little about the 33,000 betting shops already on the high street. 

The coalition government also said this week that they are going to restrict the maximum amount people can put on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs). Customers wanting to bet over £50 will need to do so over the counter. Other protection measures being considered include a choice to set limits before starting, regular warning measures and strengthening self-exclusion.

Alliance member, The Salvation Army, has also responded to the government's announcement. Their public affairs advisor Gareth Wallace said: "Today's announcement of a voluntary ceiling of £50 for fixed odds betting machines is welcome, but we believe a radical cut to no more than £10 per stake is necessary to stop problem gamblers from losing life-altering amounts of money.The proposal for account-based or over-the-counter betting could be beneficial because this enables breaks in play.

"FOBTs, which are popping up in betting shops across the country, are one of the most addictive forms of gambling and enable people to bet £100 every 20 seconds."

Evidence suggests that FOBTs cause harm, with 23 per cent of their profits coming from people with gambling problems. In recent years betting shops have started to take in more money from machines than conventional over-the-counter betting.

The government is looking at further ways to protect gamblers. These include controls on advertising, complying with social responsibility codes, and initiatives to prevent underage access to gambling. 

Dr Landrum from the Alliance continued: "It is encouraging to see the coalition government working to reduce the level of gambling in the UK and help problem gamblers. In order to successfully tackle this issue we need measures that put people first and not the gambling industry. There is a long way to go but these recent announcements are a step in the right direction."