Jackpots are to double in fruit machines with the backing of the Government, despite criticism that it will cause more addiction.
Changes would see a new £70 top prize replace the current £35 jackpot and the maximum stake will also rise from 50p to £1. The move will be the second increase in two years.
Experts say fruit machines are highly addictive and the move is “deeply worrying”.
Culture secretary Andy Burnham justified his support for the increase by claiming it will help struggling pubs, clubs and amusement arcades during the economic recession.
Doctors and church leaders are critical of the proposals and warn that raising the top prize will only incentivise gambling and increase addictions and debt, paving the way for further family breakdown, crime and poor health.
Dr Emanuel Moran, a specialist adviser on pathological gambling at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “Fruit machines are one of the most addictive forms of gambling, so this decision is deeply worrying.”
He warned: “Of all the different types of gambling, it is fruit machines that act as a ‘learning device’, where people get hooked on the idea of gambling.”
Anna Drew, a spokesman for the Methodist Church, said: “We would be concerned that any increase in stakes and prize limits might be likely to increase the amount that people risk.”
The proposals will be presented to MPs in the next few weeks but a consultation paper produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport suggests ministers are anxious about doubling the jackpot.