Government support for gambling prize rises criticised

The Evangelical Alliance has criticised the Government for continually raising the stakes and prizes on gambling machines.

Under the changes, the maximum stake is increasing from £2 to £5, while jackpots are rising from £4,000 to £10,000.

The biggest win from fruit machines with a maximum stake of £1 will increase from £70 to £100.

The changes were announced in the Government's Triennial Review of Gaming Machine Stake and Prize Limits.

Research by the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys has shown a significant increase in the number of people with gambling problems from 0.6 per cent to 0.9 per cent in the last few years.

Despite this, the Government has backed plans to increase the stakes and prizes on gambling machines after being told by industry groups that it was necessary for their economic survival.

The Evangelical Alliance said the review was a "missed opportunity" to tackle the "scourge" of high-stake Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in betting shops across the country.

The organisation questioned the Government's priorities and suggested it cared for the profits of the gambling industry before the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable.

It also raised concern about how little power local authorities have to halt the spread of betting shops.

Danny Webster, Parliamentary Officer of the Evangelical Alliance, said that the Government had failed to consider the protection of players.

"The Government have gone ahead and done the gambling industry's bidding once again. The only sure-fire bet in this business is that profit will take priority over protecting the poorest," he said.

"This was a chance to coordinate regulation in a way that put player protection at the heart of gambling policy; instead it is a missed opportunity."

Mr Webster suggested the Government would not be moved to support the regulation of machines in betting shops until research proved that it was necessary.

He said: "While there is an urgent need for more research and evidence to support regulation of machines in betting shops it is not clear what level of proof the government need before they will act."

The Alliance said in a report to the Government's consultation that each review should not been be seen as an opportunity to raise the stakes and prizes of gambling machines.

Its response reads: "While individual responsibility is important there is also a vital role for the Government and industry in ensuring the products offered do not create problems or exacerbate existing challenges.

"We believe that a thorough review should consider all options and the emphasis on financial benefit for the gambling industry is too narrow."

The Evangelical Alliance is currently working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Gambling Commission to ensure that gambling is performed in an environment that protects the player.

The Government is set to implement the changes to gambling machines by 2014, subject to parliamentary approval.