• In April 2005 the Gambling Act received Royal Assent. It implemented the most radical deregulation ever of the UK gambling industry.
  • Although there was a great deal of opposition in the media and Parliament to the new ‘Las Vegas-style’ regional casinos, this was only one part of the massive industry-wide deregulation introduced by the Act.1 Other parts were virtually unchallenged.
  • Key parts of the Act include:
    • Lifting the general prohibitions on gambling advertising
    • Removing the demand test for new casinos and betting shops
    • Removing the 24-hour membership requirement for casinos
    • Creation of new ‘Las Vegas-style’ regional casinos
    • Legalising unlimited stake and prize machines
    • Legalising FOBTs (Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals)
    • Legitimising remote gambling (e.g. online) by licensing
  • The Act allow for three categories of casino – regional, large and small. There is an initial limit of one regional casino and eight large and eight small casinos. Regional casinos must have a minimum total customer area of 5,000m sq and are allowed up to 1,250 “Category A” unlimited jackpot gaming machines. Large casinos must have a minimum total customer area of 1,500m sq and are allowed up to 150 “Category B” gaming machines, with a maximum jackpot of £4,000. Small casinos must have a minimum total customer area of 750m sq and are allowed up to 80 Category B machines.2
  • To put this in context, before the 2005 Act UK casinos were limited to ten jackpot gaming machines with a maximum prize of £2,000.3 Furthermore, the vast majority of existing casinos did not even meet the minimum size requirement for the new small casinos.4
  • The Act represented a seismic break with previous public policy that demand for gambling should not be encouraged. Such policy had previously ensured that Britain had one of the lowest rates of problem gambling in the developed world.
  • The evidence overwhelmingly points to the fact that removing restrictions on gambling will inevitably increase problem gambling.5 Even the chairman of the Gambling Commission admitted at the time that more people would suffer from a serious gambling addiction as a result of the Act. Mr Dean said the Government’s assurances that ‘super casinos’ would not create more gambling addicts were “an exaggeration”.6
  • There was no public demand for the Gambling Act. An NOP poll before the law was introduced showed the public overwhelmingly believed there were already enough opportunities to gamble.7
  • In 2007 Prime Minister Gordon Brown blocked the creation of the one super (‘regional’) casino allowed by the Act.

Biblical arguments

Gambling is any activity in which wealth changes hands, mainly on the basis of chance and with risk to the gambler. Such activities include betting, fruit machines, lotteries, casino games, scratchcards and card games. Creative effort, useful skills, and responsible investment are not integral factors.

There are three legitimate ways in which wealth may change hands – by giving, by working for it, or by genuine exchange: anything else is virtual theft and so a breaking of the 8th commandment. As has been said, gambling “is a kind of robbery by mutual agreement; but it is still robbery, just as duelling, which is murder by mutual agreement, is still treated as murder.”8

Of the three impulses behind gambling – the desire for gain, the desire for a thrill and the desire for competition – the moral and ethical problems are focused on the desire for gain.

  • Gambling directly appeals to covetousness and greed “which is idolatry” according to the Apostle Paul.9 Gambling breaches the 1st, 2nd, 8th and 10th Commandments. It enthrones personal desires in place of God. Jesus warned: “You cannot serve both God and Money.”10 A greedy and unrepentant person is an idolater who cannot obtain salvation.11
  • Gambling directly depends on other people incurring financial loss. Jesus said that you should “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”.12 But gambling depends on doing to others what we would not have them do to us. At that point no gambler desires the best for his fellow man. Instead he is indifferent to his fellow gamblers or wants them to lose so that he can win. In any honest business transaction it is the intention of both parties to benefit, yet with gambling the intention is to gain but the gain is at the other’s expense. We are called to do good to all people, not to do harm.13
  • Gambling denies the biblical work ethic which links honest labour with reward. The Apostle Paul said “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”14 Gambling holds out the dream that it is possible to get something for nothing. It can encourage laziness rather than work. Laziness is condemned in Scripture.15
  • Gambling is a reckless use of resources. It undermines the creation mandate to be stewards of creation and to work.16 The Bible teaches that all things belong to God17 and that man will have to give an account for his stewardship of all that he has been given.18
  • Rather than facing up to reality, gambling is a form of escapism. The gambling industry trades on people’s vulnerability to temptation and relies on the fact that statistically it is the industry that wins practically every time. Those who gamble often are not thinking rationally about risk. Instead they are thinking about luck and superstition. Chance is glorified and God’s sovereignty denied.19 Scripture makes clear that trust in God and trust in luck cannot co-exist.20
  • There is evidence that gambling disproportionately affects the poor who face particular temptations because of their strained financial circumstances.21 It is very wrong to exploit this vulnerability.
  • Gambling is inherently addictive. As with alcohol or drug addiction, compulsive gamblers lose control of their lives. This is plainly contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which teaches us to be self-controlled.22
  • Gambling is the very opposite of contentment.23 Man’s duty is to seek first God’s Kingdom and trust that God will meet his needs.24

Mainstream Christian belief has always viewed gambling as incompatible with the Bible’s teaching. Gambling was strongly opposed by Tertullian, Hugh Latimer, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, C H Spurgeon and William Temple. On this issue, Thomas Aquinas is not representative of mainstream Christian belief. Gambling does not cease to be wrong because a proportion of the take is devoted to so-called good causes. Many are misled at this point, and persuaded of the legitimacy of the National Lottery, for example. The end does not justify the means.

Key points

  • The then Labour Government argued the Gambling Act was vital to prevent problem gambling. This is risible. It was the very legislation that the Act repealed that had ensured low levels of problem gambling. The Joint Parliamentary Committee set up to scrutinise the Bill reported in 2004:
    • “Almost all of the evidence we have received points to the fact that this legislation would increase the number of people in the United Kingdom with a gambling problem.”25
    • The Government also argued developments in technology meant the law was outdated. But technological developments could have been addressed without repealing the vast majority of existing gambling legislation, as done by the Act.
  • In the years since the Act was passed, there has been a proliferation of gambling advertising in Britain, increasing the profile of gambling and making it mainstream. Considerable concern has focused on the rapid increase in the number of betting shops26 and, in particular, the impact of FOBTs, which have been called the crack cocaine of gambling. FOBTs allow gamblers to stake up to £18,000 an hour on virtual versions of casino games like blackjack and roulette.
  • The Government argued the Gambling Act would bring investment and jobs. Yet the Bill’s Regulatory Impact Assessment stated:
    • “A significant increase in the social costs associated with the gambling industry, including problem gambling, could negate many or all of the direct economic benefits of the Bill.”27
  • Gambling is addictive and harmful, fuelling crime, poverty and family breakdown. Gambling disproportionately affects those with the least disposable incomes. Regular gamblers who spend a lot of time and money on gambling are more likely to live in areas of greatest deprivation, live in low income households and be unemployed.28 It has been found that the most deprived areas have twice as many FOBTs and betting shops per head as the least deprived areas.29 This has led to accusations that bookmakers are targeting vulnerable people.30
  • Government ministers argued that gambling deregulation was fine so long as children and the “vulnerable” are protected. Yet this approach is disingenuous as it ignores the reality of gambling. Gambling is potentially addictive to anyone, not just “vulnerable” persons. The Royal College of Psychiatrists states: “…vulnerability to pathological gambling is inherent in the very activity of gambling.”31
  • Despite the Government’s stated belief that gambling is only for adults,32 the Act allowed children to continue gambling on fruit machines (Category D) and young people aged 16 and 17 continued to be allowed to gamble on the national lottery and football pools.
  1. 1During the passage of the Bill through Parliament, the Government was forced to place an initial limit of one regional casino, as a pilot scheme. The Government at the time did not rule out the possibility of asking Parliament to agree to more regional casinos (by secondary legislation) following an assessment of the pilot scheme. (House of Commons, Hansard, 15 November 2005, col. 1135 wa)
  2. 2Casino Advisory Panel [archived], see as at 28 April 2015
  3. 3Gambling Bill: Regulatory Impact Assessment, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2004, page 83, para. 3
  4. 4Gambling Bill: Regulatory Impact Assessment, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2004, pages 92-93, para. 44
  5. 5House of Lords, House of Commons Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 63-I, HC 139-I, vol. 1, page 7
  6. 6The Times, 3 January 2006
  7. 7Memorandum from the Salvation Army, House of Lords, House of Commons Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 63-II, HC 139-II, vol. II, Ev. 83, para. 1
  8. 8Paton, J L, ‘Gambling’ in J Hastings (Ed), Encyclopaedia of religion and ethics, Vol VI, T & T Clark, 1913, page 166
  9. 9Colossians 3:5
  10. 10Matthew 6:24
  11. 11Ephesians 5:5
  12. 12Matthew 7:12
  13. 13Galatians 6:10
  14. 14Ephesians 4:28
  15. 15For example 2 Thessalonians 3:10
  16. 16Genesis 1:28; 9:1-2
  17. 17Psalm 24:1
  18. 18Matthew 25:14-30
  19. 19Job 42:2; Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3
  20. 20Isaiah 65:11-12
  21. 21Proverbs 30:8-9
  22. 22Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:22-23; Titus 2:11-12; 1 Peter 5:8
  23. 231 Timothy 6:6-10
  24. 24Matthew 6:30-34; Philippians 4:19
  25. 25House of Lords, House of Commons Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 63-I, HC 139-I, vol. 1, page 7
  26. 26Politics Home, 14 April 2015, see as at 30 October 2015
  27. 27Gambling Bill: Regulatory Impact Assessment, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2004, page 16, para. 1.64
  28. 28Wardle H, Moody A, Spence S et al, British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010, National Centre for Social Research, 2011, page 11
  29. 29Reed, H, Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, Problem Gambling and Deprivation: A Review of Recent Evidence from the ABB, Landman Economics, 2014, pages 12-14
  30. 30The Guardian, 5 January 2013
  31. 31Memorandum from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, House of Lords, House of Commons Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 63-II, HC 139-II, vol. 2, Ev. 46, para. 13
  32. 32Draft Gambling Bill: The Policy, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, November 2003, page 49, para. 6.23