Churches across the UK have welcomed a new 12-week consultation to reduce the risk of people suffering large losses from playing fixed-odd betting terminals.
The maximum stake on electronic casino games could drop to as little as £2 under a UK Government review, which will also examine social responsibility measures.
Currently, people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds but proposals could limit that to between £2 and £50.
The Church of Scotland, the Salvation Army, The Church of England, The Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, The Baptist Union of Great Britain, CARE, The Evangelical Alliance and Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs have teamed up to urge the UK Government to act boldly. They are in favour of a £2 maximum stake.
Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said:
“Gambling can destroy people’s lives and does wreck the lives of individuals and families.
“In my life as a minister, I have witnessed that reality too many times.
“Fixed odds gaming machines have done huge damage over recent years and anything which can be done to reduce the harm they are causing is to be welcomed.”
But the churches have warned that the range of options presented for a maximum stake for Fixed-odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs) is too wide.
In a joint statement, the organisations said:
“Fixed odds betting terminals present serious problems in society and for local communities, families and individuals.
“Evidence links them to patterns of addictive behaviour, large financial losses and anti-social and criminal behaviour.
“While we welcome the UK Government’s consultation, anything approaching an upper limit of £50 would not go far enough to reduce the negative impact these machines can have on individuals, families and the wider society.
“Not only is there a major challenge presented by FOBTs, there are also wider issues associated with gambling that require serious political commitment to address.
“We stand by the belief that the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals must be radically reduced from the current maximum stake of £100.
“We believe that this will help to reduce the potentially enormous financial loss that some people experience, and therefore the consequences including debt, depression and crime.
“Most of us are committed to a £2 maximum.
“We urge the UK Government to view gambling addiction as a public health issue.
“The UK Department of Health must engage with gambling addiction strategically, at the levels of both prevention as well as treatment for individuals.
“Evidence showing that problem gambling causes harm to a disproportionate extent in disadvantaged areas and amongst ethnic minorities.
“Local authorities must be empowered to combat the increase of gaming machines and their clustering in disadvantaged areas.
“There is also evidence of a strong association between problem gambling and online play.
“In this context it is very important that the long awaited multi-operator self-exclusion system for online gambling, first promised by the UK Government in March 2014, is now implemented as quickly and as robustly as possible.
“We are profoundly concerned about the marked growth in gambling advertising and urge the UK Government to adopt a 9pm watershed which includes the promotion of gambling through sports events.”