British Methodists fear fallout from new casinos
Feb. 1, 2007
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By Kathleen LaCamera*
MANCHESTER, England (UMNS) - Manchester will be the home of the United Kingdom's first super casino, ushering in new "hard forms" of gambling never before seen in the island nations, including unlimited-prize jackpot machines.
British Methodist Church officials say the new Gambling Act has paved the way for the Manchester super casino, announced on Jan. 30, and 17 smaller casinos around the country, expected to put huge profits in the pockets of the gambling industry and the UK government.
The British Methodist Church is challenging the government and industry to channel "substantial resources to help those many thousands, if not millions" who will develop gambling-related problems, said Anthea Cox, the church's coordinating secretary for public life and social justice.
"Unfortunately, evidence suggests that the new casinos, along with the increasing popularity of online gambling and the general normalization of gambling within [Britain], could result in many more people developing a serious gambling addiction over an extended period," Cox said.
Research indicates an estimated 370,000 people in the United Kingdom already have gambling problems. A poll commissioned by the Salvation Army shows 56 percent of British people (and 64 percent of British women) do not want a casino to open where they live.
Manchester officials cite regeneration of rundown areas, £265 million ($503 million) in investments and up to 2,700 new jobs as good reasons to welcome the super casino.
But the Rev. Cris Acher, a Manchester-based Methodist minister, believes his city has "sold out on this one."
Acher, who heads up the innovative Night Café ministry catering to 18-30s club-goers in Manchester's City Centre, told United Methodist News Service that Manchester already has culture, commerce and night life without the casino.
"There are potential benefits, but at what cost?" he asked.
The Rev. Keith Davies, chairman of the Methodist church's Manchester and Stockport District, challenged the city's claims about potential economic benefits. "Most of the jobs created will be low paid and the benefit for the community as a whole will be minimal," he said.
Given the potential social costs of gambling, Davies suggested a greater investment in social housing and social amenities would have a far more significant impact on people living in the area of the proposed casino site - one of the most deprived communities in the United Kingdom.
"When the act came in, we decided that we had no choice but to live with it, but we're still banging on about the problem," said Alison Jackson, a member of the Joint Pubic Issues Team for the British Methodist Church. "There's been a massive consultation since the bill became an act (of Parliament) and we've been talking to the government about how they will implement provisions to protect people from problem gambling."
The team has contributed to the design of a government study that will chart British attitudes and actions as more gambling opportunities are introduced. The first stage of a five-year study is already under way.
Church officials acknowledge there is no evidence showing how a new regional casino will affect the United Kingdom. However, they cite the U.S. experience of rising gambling-related debt, crime, bankruptcy and associated social problems - including unemployment and family breakdown - as a predictor of what could happen here.
Jackson said British Methodists are just as worried about Internet gambling, noting that recent crackdowns in the United States will push this form of gambling underground.
"There are always ways of getting your money to gambling sites on the Internet regardless of what the U.S. does," said Jackson. If Internet gambling goes underground, she said, people will be at risk both from gambling itself and from unscrupulous people who will charge extortionate rates to channel money to Internet sites.
Government officials in British cities such as Blackpool and Greenwich, which lost out to Manchester, hope more super casinos will be sanctioned, though officials overseeing the Gambling Act say they won't approve more regional casinos for the next three years.
Provisions in the gambling law require "proper monitoring" by the government of the effects of increased gambling opportunities. British Methodists say they will be "keeping an eye on the situation" to make sure the government keeps its promise.
*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.
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