The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church provide the following response to the publication on 27 April of the UK Government’s Gambling White Paper.
The Government’s White Paper, High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age, is a combination of welcome changes, disappointing delay in some important areas, and missed opportunities.
The Government has indicated that it will consult on the introduction of a number of measures that Churches have been calling for, which we believe are needed to prevent the harm caused by gambling.
Gambling costs in physical and mental health, relationships, jobs, families and has an impact on wider communities, and tragically, in extreme cases, it can lead to suicide. Churches have long supported a statutory levy on gambling companies to contribute towards treatment and the prevention of harm. The industry’s voluntary financial contribution has been inadequate so we welcome the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory levy.
In our submission to the Government’s consultation on the White Paper we highlighted evidence that young people aged 18-24 routinely have the highest rates of problem gambling. We are therefore encouraged to see that the Government will be consulting on additional protections for younger adults through some enhanced checks and limits on online stakes. The Churches have for several decades campaigned in support of the principle that gambling is an adult activity, and so we welcome the plans at long last to legislate to ban children from Category D cash slot machines.
Recently a number of gambling companies have been fined for failing to carry out checks and allowing people to gamble and lose enormous amounts of money. Many more will have simply lost more than they can afford, leading to cycles of debt, addiction and gambling harm. The Government’s decision to consult on the introduction of financial risk checks to address binge gambling is welcome.
At the moment there are no statutory limits on stakes for online gambling. Given the amount that people can lose online in a short space of time, the consultation on introducing a limit on stakes is welcome. However, this has to go hand in hand with other ways of making online gambling safer by design, looking at features such as the speed and volatility of play and the illusion of player control.
This white paper has sadly missed an opportunity to significantly strengthen controls on advertising. Advertising is a powerful tool for normalizing gambling, particularly around sport. Many young people who have a susceptibility to gambling say that advertising has affected their decisions to gamble. By only offering limited consultation on marketing and voluntary codes, the Government is missing an opportunity to do much more to minimise the harm that gambling is causing particularly to young adults but also to those whose circumstances make them vulnerable.
The direction of travel within the White Paper is largely encouraging and responds to various concerns that Churches have raised over many years. However, after waiting three years for this White Paper, it is frustrating to see how many of the changes will now be going out again to consultation, risking further delay and dilution. We cannot afford further delay, and encourage the Government to ensure that gambling is indeed a public health priority.
Revd Fiona E Bennett, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church
Revd Karen Hendry, Convener pro tem, Faith Impact Forum, Church of Scotland
Revd Graham Thompson, President of the Methodist Conference, The Methodist Church in Britain
Revd Hayley Young, President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain