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Roll the Dice in Britain

Gambling Problems Multiply as Casino Gets Go-Ahead

By Father John Flynn

ROME, FEB. 20, 2007 (Zenit) - British gamblers will soon have even more betting opportunities with the government's recent approval of what news reports have termed a "super casino." The city of Manchester was chosen as the site. In addition, licenses were given for a number of other smaller casinos throughout the United Kingdom, the London-based Times newspaper reported Jan. 31.

The decision was greeted with concern by Manchester's Anglican bishop, Nigel McCulloch. Speaking for himself and other faith leaders in the city, he told the Times that they are seriously concerned about the social and moral effects of the new casino.

He was backed up by the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who was questioned about the approval in a press conference Jan. 30. According to a text posted on the archbishop's Web page, he said: "It's quite clear from all the research figures that gambling is a more and more popular form of addiction in this country; and we must not underrate the seriousness of that.

"All addictions are imprisonments for the soul and therefore any form of addiction is something that ought to be of concern to the population at large, and to the religious population in particular."

The casino decision is part of a series of changes regarding gambling, brought about by the 2005 Gambling Act, which will come into force next September.

Leading up to the announcement of the new casino sites, the Sunday Times on Jan. 28 published an in-depth look at the extent of gambling in Britain. According to government figures, the amount of money wagered was 7 billion pounds ($13.6 billion) in 1996. By 2002, the amount was 16 billion pounds ($31.1 billion), and in 2005 it reached 48 billion ($93.5 billion). These figures do not include the national lottery, which attracts an additional 5 billion pounds ($9.7 billion) annually.

According to the article, there are around 300,000 people who suffer from gambling problems in Britain. This could increase following an easing of regulations by the government. For example, casinos will be allowed to advertise on television for the first time.

The Sunday Times noted the incongruence of a government that so often introduces regulations on health and safety issues, while at the same time continually expands gambling opportunities.

Gambling online has also become increasingly popular in Britain, reported the London-based Telegraph newspaper Nov. 24. The article cited research presented in a BBC Panorama program, revealing that an average of 5.8 million Britons, many of them teenagers, visited online gambling sites from April to September last year.

According to the Telegraph, the BBC program cited Jim Orford, an addiction expert at Birmingham University, as saying that he believes that the government is naive regarding the liberalization of gambling. Last year British Culture Minister Tessa Jowell said she wanted an increase in the number of Internet gambling companies based in Britain. Orford predicted that up to a million people a year could become hooked on Web gambling.

Human misery

Simon Heffer, commenting on the casino decision in the pages of the Telegraph newspaper Jan. 31, noted: "Gambling has, down the centuries, caused much harmless pleasure." He added, however: "It has also caused enormous human misery."

Heffer accused the government of promoting gambling in order to gain more revenue from gullible betters, "whatever the moral implications or the human cost."

On Jan. 15 the British Medical Association (BMA) published a study on gambling addicts and how they are treated by the country's National Health Service (NHS). This report was entitled: "Gambling Addiction and Its Treatment Within the NHS: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals."

The BMA called for gambling to be a recognized addiction for treatment purposes in the NHS.

The BMA is particularly worried about adolescent problem gamblers. The study notes that addiction to gambling among teenagers can lead to behavioral problems such as skipping school, stealing and aggressive behavior. It also observes that research has shown that gambling among young people often goes hand in hand with other addictive activities such as drug and alcohol abuse, and has been linked to juvenile crime.

Psychological problems also result from excessive gambling, and can include anxiety, depression, guilt and suicidal thoughts. Relationships with family and friends can also be affected by gambling, sometimes leading to separation and divorce.

The BMA study observed that low income is one of the most consistent factors associated with problem gambling worldwide. There may be both a cause and an effect factor regarding this relationship. Being on a low income may be a reason to gamble in the first place, in the hope of winning. As well, gambling may lead to low income as a result of consistent losing.

In Britain, people in the lowest income categories are three times more likely to be classed a problem gambler than average, the report noted.

Moreover, a worrying element noted by the BMA is that the most problematic type of gambling in Britain is associated with games in a casino. One research study cited by the BMA showed that 8.7% of people who gambled on this activity in the past year were problem gamblers.

Compulsive bets

Gambling's negative impact was also examined in a report prepared by the Salvation Army in Australia. In October they published a study entitled: "Report on the Sydney Problem Gambling Centre: Fairfield NSW."

The document details the experience of a center established in Fairfield, located in Sydney's western suburbs, to help problem gamblers and their families.

According to the Salvation Army, Australia has nearly 300,000 problem gamblers, and the number is on the rise. The report cited data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last September, showing that in the period 2004-2005, Australians lost 18.8 billion Australian dollars ($14.7 billion) to gambling, a figure that represents around 2% of the national economy. Additionally the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia says gambling or speculation caused about 3% of bankruptcies in 2002-03.

In the state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, the Bureau of Statistics reports that residents are the biggest gamblers in the country. They spend an average of 1,196 Australian dollars ($938) per adult each year on all forms of gambling.

The most popular form of gambling is playing the poker machines, and the Salvation Army report comments that operators follow a carefully planned strategy in order to encourage players. Tactics include paying little wins frequently; venues that operate courtesy buses so that people can drink without worrying -- which lowers inhibitions and increases gambling; and installing automatic teller machines in convenient locations so people can access more cash.

The boom in gambling in recent years means that gambling expenditures have grown at a faster rate that the national household disposable income (HDI). Australian gambling expenditure in 1978-79 was 1.49% of HDI, compared with 3.12% of HDI in 2003-2004.

The report also indicated that poorer sections of the population are being deliberately targeted. It cited research showing that poker machines in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are more densely placed in poorer areas.

Governments are also becoming addicted to gambling. One study cited in the report said that state governments in Australia now derive no less than 12% of tax revenues from gambling. Drawn by the lure of easy money, governments are increasingly leading their citizens into the temptation of gambling, while often ignoring the high social costs.

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Keywords

Britain, Gamble, Betting, Casino, Moral, Ethics

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