The Church of England is committed to working alongside people who are affected by gambling and is also active in making appropriate submissions on Government legislation.
The Gambling (Licensing and Regulation) Bill has been through Parliament and is awaiting Royal Assent. It brings overseas providers of online gambling within the UK regulatory regime, requiring them to be licensed by the Gambling Commission before they can advertise in the UK. This is good - and of course enables taxation of these companies for the first time; but two points were pressed by the MPA division, along with a number of other Christian groups, during the passage of the Bill.
One is enforcement: the Bill originally contained very little provision for enforcement, which is of course difficult with a large number of operators working in a variety of overseas jurisdictions. Although the Bill has not changed much in this respect, the pressure in the House of Lords led to some firm government commitments to look at enforcement measures, including work with the major payment processing companies (Visa etc.) to enable financial transaction blocking, so that people cannot remit money to unlicensed companies.
The other is self-exclusion. Problem gamblers often say that once into a gambling session, they tend to be drawn into a cycle of chasing their losses, and cannot stop; while at their more 'lucid' times they want to put up obstacles so that when they are tempted to start gambling, it is harder to do so. Betting shops, as a condition of their licence, have to offer self-exclusion (so that their staff will forbid entry to someone who has asked for self-exclusion). A widely supported amendment to the Bill proposed a self-exclusion mechanism whereby someone could ask the Gambling Commission to add their name to a list of people from whom no online provider was allowed to take bets. Here again, the government is now looking at possibilities.
The Mission and Public Affairs Division is working with other faith groups to inform the work of the Gambling Commission through its community liaison function. Hot topics at the moment include Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs): these supply much of the turnover of the retail betting outlets which many people believe have been on the increase in some of our high streets in the last few years. We want clear, independent research on the impact of these machines. There is money being put into research, but it comes from the gambling industry as voluntary contributions. The General Synod has said it wants a levy, which would greatly reduce the likelihood of the inductory having an influence on what is researched and how.
The triennial review of limits on stakes and prizes in gambling machines is currently under way - the government's response to the Gambling Commission's response has been put back a couple of months. We're a bit concerned that there is little clarity about the impact of different limits - again, not much really helpful research. There is some good work being done, with industry support, to help individual problem gamblers with their issues: we'd like to see more on the social impact of the growth of the gambling industry.
And then there's online gambling ...
Press release from February 2008 on the Government's decision not to license a regional supercasino
Earlier that month the General Synod had debated a Private Member's Motion from Tom Benyon on gambling, with specific reference to the Government's stance in relation to the opening of casinos and the sharp increase in public spending on gambling.
The Synod carried the motion in this amended form:
'That this Synod, gravely concerned that the total national spend on gaming has risen in each year over the past four years from £4 to £40 billion:
(a) endorse the public opposition expressed by church leaders to the introduction of regional and large casinos, and encourage local churches to participate in local authority consultations on plans for new casino applications;
(b) declare its support for programmes of education, research and treatment undertaken with the aim of checking the growth in problem gaming, and request the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to invoke the powers granted by the Gambling Act 2005 to introduce a statutory levy on the gambling industry to fund such programmes;
(c) call upon Her Majesty's Government to monitor the addictive effects of fixed-odds betting terminals and to seek an international framework for a code of conduct on internet gambling; and
(d) call upon the Mission and Public Affairs Council to report back to Synod by February 2009 on measures being taken by the Churches to combat the detrimental effects of gambling in various forms.'
Church questions proposals for gambling advertisements