The Church of England is ramping up pressure on the government to press on and publish its review of high-speed gambling machines, known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of betting.
The Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith, wrote to the Chancellor on Tuesday asking for his reassurance the crackdown would go ahead after reports the Treasury had shelved plans because of the loss of tax revenue.
With around £1.8bn waged on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) every year, around £400m goes to the Exchequer, and one Whitehall source was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying the campaign to cut the maximum stake would be ‘financially crippling’.
The highly addictive machines have a maximum stake of £100 every 20 seconds, meaning £18,000 could be lost in a single hour.
The CofE has been at the forefront of a campaign to drastically reduce the maximum stake to £2 with the rise of the machines in high-street betting shops credited for fuelling addiction, crime, debt and family breakdown.
Bishop Smith told Philip Hammond he understood the pressures on public finances but urged him to publish the review ‘without undue delay’.
Speaking to Christian Today Bishop Smith said: ‘The government has a duty to protect people to regulate this highly addictive form of gambling.’
He said clergy and congregations were on the front line of offering support to those in debt because of these machines and warned people had lost their homes with others driven to suicide.
He warned: ‘If the government is not willing to regulate this, I think there will be many people who will wonder if that is being driven by financial concerns from the Treasury.’
Responding to the Daily Mail’s report that the review had been shelved, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Tracey Crouch, branded it ‘fake news’. A spokeswoman insisted the review would be published in the autumn but could not confirm whether it would contain proposals to cut the maximum stake.
The Church of England has been at the head of the campaign to curb the damage FOBTs do and in February it’s ruling General Synod made the unusual move of unanimously urging the government to reduce both their proliferation and their £100 top wager.
Bishop Smith has led the Church’s focus on this and introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Lords to allow local authorities to limit the number of machines in their area.
With backing from the Local Government Association (LGA),Smith said refusing to allow council to control the number of FOBTs was an ‘illogical anomaly’ and blocked them from ‘tackling gambling-related harm on our high streets’.