Synod united in call for action against gambling machines

17 February 2017

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THE General Synod has unanim­ously called on the Government to take action on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs), sometimes re­­ferred to as “the crack cocaine of gambling” (News, 28 October). They were described by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, as “an anomaly on the high street”.

The Synod is calling for the max­imum stake on the gaming ma­­chines, which can be found in bet­ting shops around the country, to be reduced from £100 to £2; and for local authorities to be given the power to regulate the number of such machines in their area.

Applause rang out as the chair of the session announced that the motion had been passed unanim­ously by the Synod: 310 voted in favour, none against, and there were no abstentions.

The motion was originally carried by the London diocesan synod. Moving the motion at the General Synod, Clive Scowen recognised that the Synod would contain members who ranged from those who “would see all forms of gambling and games of chance as morally wrong, and to be avoided by Christians”, to those who would re­­cognise “that gambling is a prob­lem when done to excess [but who] would see bingo, raffles, and lucky dips at the church fête as not only harmless fun but a useful way of raising funds to fix the church roof”.

He said that, regardless of those views, “I hope to persuade you that there is a particular form of gamb­ling, available on virtually every high street, which is causing real prob­lems in our society.”

He said that there were now nearly 35,000 FOBTs in betting shops around the country. With a maximum stake of up to £100 every 20 seconds, gamblers could wager up to £18,000 in an hour.

They were the only type of gambling machine outside betting shops where people could wager more than £2 at a time.

”Casinos are high-supervision en­­vironments where problem gamblers are quickly spotted and stopped. In betting shops, by contrast, effective supervision is minimal.”

The Synod accepted without de­­bate three amendments to the ori­ginal London diocesan motion from Dr Smith, who has a Private Member’s Bill awaiting second read­ing in the House of Lords. The Bill would give local authorities the power to regulate the number of such machines in their area.

Speaking on Tuesday, Dr Smith described FOBTs as “the most extra­ordinarily addictive form of betting that we have on our High Streets. They are a total anomaly because they are allowing a level of gambling and rapidity of gambling that is unlike anything else in our betting shops.”

The motion calls on the Govern­ment to amend existing legislation to reduce the current maximum stake from £100 to £2.

He emphasised that the motion was “not having a go on betting”: many people enjoy a flutter. But he said that the closest alternatives to FOBTs were available only in licensed casinos.

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