New plans to double the top stakes and prizes allowed for fruit machines could harm society’s most vulnerable people, campaigners have warned.
The groups say the proposals would put the top prize offered by fruit machines at £70 – more than weekly benefit levels. Players could pay up to £1 for each go.
“With global recession looming, unemployment rising and disposable income falling, the Government has gone back on its earlier concern for vulnerable people in response to pressure from the gambling industry,” said a Church of England spokesman.
A campaign entitled Fruitless has been launched to persuade the Government to drop the plans.
The groups behind it include the Methodist Church, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reformed Church, the Evangelical Alliance, CARE and The Salvation Army.
They point out that there are already around a quarter of a million problem gamblers in the UK, and say they are concerned that the number will increase with greater prizes on offer.
“Slot machines are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, because of the repetitive and solitary nature of play,” said David Bradwell, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the British Methodist Church.
“The Government claim to be committed to protecting those vulnerable to gambling addiction, but have ignored our calls for caution and proper analysis. Fruitless is a stand for vulnerable people in the face of these ridiculous proposals.”
The laws on gambling were controversially liberalised in 2005 to allow Las Vegas style casinos and advertising of gambling and online betting for the first time.
The group say the Government has “gone back on its word not to further liberalise the gambling sector before proper research into problem gambling has been conducted”.
Last February the General Synod of the Church of England passed a motion condemning the Government’s “apparent enthusiasm for the promotion of gambling”.
A report for the Gambling Commission last year showed that between five and seven per cent of young people were already classified as having gambling problems, while up to 14 per cent are at risk of developing them.
The report said problem gambling among the young was an “emerging public health issue”, with experts blaming the liberalisation of the law.
A separate report last year from a gambling charity said there had been a 25 per cent increase in calls to its helpline, although it attributed the rise partly to the fact that its number was more widely displayed.
Experts have blamed the recent liberalisation of gambling laws for the growing problems.