Millions of terrestrial television viewers will soon be able to gamble thousands of pounds as they watch a four-hour live roulette show.
Channel Five’s decision to broadcast the late-night show has prompted dismay from anti-gambling campaigners, religious leaders and politicians.
From 17 September Five will show SuperCasino.com three nights a week from midnight to 4 am. Coverage will expand to six nights a week in October and every night in 2010.
Five is able to broadcast the show after the television regulator Ofcom relaxed rules forbidding television gambling.
In May Ofcom reclassified gambling as “teleshopping”, which commercial broadcasters are allowed to show for six hours a night.
SuperCasino.com, which is produced by NetPlay TV, will be presented by a croupier who will encourage viewers to place online or telephone bets of up to £1,000.
Campaigners are particularly concerned that registering to bet takes just a few minutes via the show’s website, with no ‘cooling off’ period before bets can be placed.
They say the show will entice heavy losses from vulnerable people, such as those who switch on their television after a night of drinking.
Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “This will be a huge disappointment to people who want to see responsible public service broadcasting. It risks creating a new generation of problem gamblers and potentially destroying many families.
“Five should explain exactly what safeguards they are putting in place to prevent the potentially dire consequences.”
John Beyer from pressure group Mediawatch UK said: “This is a money-making enterprise from a commercial TV company struggling from a lack of revenue. I am anxious about people engaging in gambling in this way.
“People who can’t go to a casino will be able to gamble on TV. People who cannot afford it will be attracted to it.”
A spokesman for Five said: “NetPlay TV is buying airtime on Five, within the window that was agreed by Ofcom.”
Martin Higginson of NetPlay TV said safeguards were in place to stop under-18s placing bets.
“We don’t set the rules,” he said. “Ofcom has deemed that broadcasters are allowed to sell airtime past midnight to gambling companies.”