Archbishop of Canterbury slams casinos in Synod debate

The Archbishop of Canterbury made clear his opposition to casinos at the Church of England General Synod on Tuesday when he rejected "ridiculous" claims over regeneration and challenged the "slavery of addiction".

"A striking number of people in this country feel deeply uneasy about [gambling] trends," Dr Rowan Williams told Synod during a late afternoon debate on the Church's response to gambling.

The Archbishop was speaking in support of a motion put forward by Thomas Benyon of the Oxford Diocese stating that Synod was "appalled" at the drastic rise in national spending on gaming, particularly internet gambling, from £4 billion to £40 billion over the last few years. His motion also called on church leaders to redouble their efforts in opposing to the Government's "astonishing" promotion of casinos.

The Archbishop of Canterbury swept aside claims that large casinos offer a means to regeneration in deprived communities, saying that such "ridiculous" arguments obscured the enormous social costs.

"We expect industries to clean up their pollution," he said. "The gambling industry is profoundly costly, its human pollution in terms of promoting addiction, destroying family life and so forth, is manifest. The gambling industry needs to take responsibility."

He told Synod that a Christian response to gambling had to be mindful of the concept of stewardship.

"God's gifts are given to us so that they may be used for the sake of the Kingdom. That, I would say, is the bottom line here and gambling is intrinsically something which refuses that use of God's creation gifts," he said.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week scrapped plans to build a highly controversial super-casino in Manchester, although plans to build 16 smaller regional casinos will still go ahead.

The Archbishop gave his backing to an amendment put forward by Dr Philip Giddings, convenor of Anglican Mainstream, urging the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, to hit the gambling industry with a levy to fund genuine social regeneration programmes.

The amendment also urged church leaders to continue opposing the introduction of regional and large casinos, and to encourage local churches to participate in local authority consultations on plans for new casino applications.

Canon Alma Servant, who worked as a waitress in a casino between 1973 and 1975, told Synod of some of the social devastation caused by casinos, telling of customers who had offered her money for sex, lost their businesses, and even committed suicide.

"Casinos are dedicated to nothing else than money," she said. "People gamble with their family life and all sorts because money is God. I want an end to casinos because they are the end of all values."

The amended motion was passed by 258 votes to four, with nine abstentions.