The Church of England has been joined by more than 60 MPs in calling on internet giant Google to stop carrying ads for gambling companies.
Google’s decision to allow gambling ads was announced last October, despite experts denouncing the move as “reckless”.
It is thought that the move could generate millions in increased revenue for the company.
But more than 60 MPs have now signed an early day motion calling on the company to reverse its decision “in line with its own obligations on corporate social responsibility”.
They say Google’s promotion of gambling risks “normalising” the activity.
The MPs restated Church warnings that the current economic climate would make more people vulnerable to problem gambling.
The Church said: “As people are facing more financial uncertainty, the fantasy of instant wealth could become particularly attractive and the consequences of losses correspondingly serious.”
Last year one gambling helpline reported a 25 per cent increase in calls from problem gamblers whose average debt was £17,500.
One MP, Peter Kilfoyle, commented at the time of Google’s decision: “I think it’s extraordinary that a major global company should seek, at this time, to promote gambling on its internet site.”
However, some observers say Google’s decision to carry the ads may have been prompted by the need to recover income lost due to the financial crisis.
Google spokesman James Cashmore insisted that the company has “taken steps to ensure only properly licensed gambling businesses can advertise on Google, and these ads will automatically be classified as ‘Non-Family Safe’, meaning they will not show on any search where a user has applied the SafeSearch filter”.
But Dr Emanuel Moran, a leading psychiatrist, pointed out last year that “even a child” can turn off Google’s SafeSearch tool.
He said gambling companies can advertise on Google even if they are licensed overseas, where they can be subject to less robust rules than UK companies.
The company faced legal action earlier this year from The Christian Institute after it refused to allow religious groups to place ads on the subject of abortion.
In an out-of-court settlement with the Institute, Google changed its policy with worldwide effect.