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‘Our society cannot afford to delay’: Churches urge Gov to prevent gambling harms in review

by Tola Mbakwe

Major UK Church denominations and charities have joined to call on the UK Government to act decisively and urgently in tackling the harm caused by gambling. 

The Government is reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act. “The Review of the Act is an opportunity to step back and take a wider look across the issues, but improvements can and will continue to be made separately to the Review as well,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement.

Ahead of the 31st March deadline for submissions to the review, seven Churches and charities have said gambling must be treated as a public health issue.

They added: “Gambling related harms affect families, communities, colleagues and friends as well as individuals, and can cause mental and physical ill health, indebtedness, family breakdown and most tragically may even result in suicide.  These harms simply cannot be tackled by focusing on individuals’ gambling habits or relying on individual organisations to provide solutions.  Instead the devolved and UK Governments must adopt a public health approach to prevent harm and address population level risks.”

They highlighted an urgent need for law reform around online gambling.

“The extent of internet gambling or advertising was barely imagined when the 2005 Act was passed.  It is a more complex environment with people able to gamble almost anywhere and at anytime.  Government needs to use this opportunity to require the gambling industry to implement measures, such as caps on expenditure or losses with the aim of reducing risks of gambling-related harm,” they said.

The Churches and charities also showed particular concern for young people, pointing out that they are  especially vulnerable to the harms caused by gambling. 

“We are calling for gambling advertising to be dramatically reduced or banned altogether, and for unethical marketing practices to be identified and prevented.  We have all welcomed plans to increase the age limit on the National Lottery, called for this to be extended across all lottery products, and for an end to the anomaly that children are still allowed to gamble on Category D gaming machines.  Gambling is an adult activity, and a regulated industry must not be allowed to entice or market to children, or to provide any gambling products for them.”

The statement also targeted gambling companies. They urged the government to hold gambling companies financially responsible for harms they’ve caused.

“We have also re-iterated calls for the UK Government to use the powers given in the 2005 Act to introduce a compulsory levy on the industry to pay for the treatment of gambling related harm, independent research and preventative measures, including education and public awareness campaigns.  It is not acceptable that so many charities and organisations providing help and support still have to rely on gambling industry donations.

“As Churches and charities, we urge Government to act immediately to prevent further gambling related harm.  The UK Government is only seeking evidence at this stage, and action on any of these issues may be left for many months even years.  In the meantime, more children, young adults, families and others will suffer harm and damage.  Our society cannot afford to delay.”

The signatories to the statement are:

The Baptist Union of Great Britain

The Church of England

The Church of Scotland,

The Methodist Church

The United Reformed Church

The Evangelical Alliance

Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs

Meanwhile, it's claimed the UK is lagging behind other countries when it comes to research into the damage caused by gambling.

A survey's looked at four key areas of betting, and found the US, Canada and Australia investigated the associated harms more thoroughly.

Researchers say more funding is needed to address the lack of understanding of the problem here.

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