Churches and Christian charities in joint call to Government on gambling harms

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Churches and Christian charities are calling on the Government to take more action to prevent harms caused by gambling.

 The call has been made in submissions to the Government's review of the 2005 Gambling Act, which is considering online protections for players and gambling sponsorship in sports. 

Ahead of the consultation deadline next week, a coalition of churches and Christian organisations is warning of the risk posed by online gambling, especially to children and young people. 

"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," the statement reads. 

"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.

"One area where this is urgently needed is remote 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 any time.

"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." 

Signatories to the letter include the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Evangelical Alliance and CARE.

Together, they call for the recent increase to the age limit for the National Lottery to be extended to all lottery products, and for a ban on children playing category D gaming machines like crane grabs and coin pushers. 

They also call for gambling advertising to be "dramatically" reduced or "banned altogether", and for a compulsory levy on the industry to pay for the treatment of gambling related harm, independent research, and preventative measures like education and public awareness campaigns. 

"As Churches and charities, we have all expressed a particular concern for children, teenagers and young adults, who are especially vulnerable to the harms caused by gambling," they say.

They add, "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."

Commenting on the statement, the Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, convener of the Church of Scotland's Faith Impact Forum said: "The harms of gambling have increased dramatically since the 2005 Gambling Act was passed, with the introduction of online gambling and other developments which were not anticipated 15 years ago.

"That is why we are calling on the UK Government to work with the Scottish Government to act decisively and urgently to tackle these harms.

"We are asking for gambling advertising to banned or substantially reduced, along with greater protections for children.

"The Government should also require the gambling industry to pay for treatment, independent research, education and awareness campaigns that highlight gambling-related harm."