I’ve been meaning to write something about this for a while, so I was very pleased to read in Christianity Today that the Methodist Church has responded to the news that Bookmakers are to be allowed to open on Good Friday this year. (Apparently, the Daily Mail picked this up on Friday, but I don’t read that).
High street betting shops will open on Good Friday for the first time.
The ban on taking bets on one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar was swept away in the Government’s controversial gambling reforms.
Thousand of shops are expected to open on March 21, even though there is no horse-racing in the UK that day.
Church groups expressed their sadness last night and urged the public to go to worship instead.
Methodist church spokesman Ken Howcroft said: “We fail to see the real benefits of bookmakers opening on what is a public holiday and a special-day for many.
While for some gambling is a leisure pursuit, for others it can be immensely addictive and damaging.
“We hope that on Good Friday Methodists and others will take some time out from their everyday activities to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion.”
Betting shops have been banned from opening on Good Friday since they were first permitted in the early 1960s.
But the 2004 Gambling Act makes it clear that Christmas Day is now the only occasion on which it is illegal to open.
Ladbrokes said around 2,000 of their 2.350 branches will open, adding “We don’t see it as different to other days”.
I was pleased about this, but not surprised. When the 2004 Gambling Act was going through Parliament, the then-President of Conference Wil Morrey signed a joint letter with other church leaders which said, in part
It is paradoxical that one part of the Bill exists to ameliorate problems that could be created by the other part. The Gambling Bill paves the way for huge casinos that will contain some of the most addictive forms of gambling, such as casino table games and unlimited-prize fruit machines.
All of the experts seem to agree that their proliferation across Britain will lead to an increase in the number of problem gamblers. Churches are called, among other things, to care for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in society. The knock-on effects of problem gambling, including family and relationship breakdown, are severe and harmful. Ruined lives are not a price worth paying for more gambling opportunities.
Since then, the Methodist Church, along with the Salvation Army, have been at the forefront of campaigning for the gambling law to be changed. Significant progress has been made on this: the Bill as originally published allowed for the development of many “super casinos” around the country. Thanks to the lobbying in which the Methodist Church played a significant part, this was eventually reduced to just one. Now even that one has been dropped.
Furthermore, the Methodist Church has developed considerable expertise on the Gambling industry, to the point where our press office will be one of the first ports of call for journalists working on gambling-related stories. I know that even journalists who have no sympathy for the faith of the church have used the church’s expertise to help them write their copy.
I’m certain that the Church’s engagement with the Gambling industry is not beyond criticism. I reckon those who say that there should be no conversation between that industry and our have a point. I deplore the whole despicable trade. But had it not been for the way that the church got stuck into this issue, there is little doubt in my mind that the liberalizing of the trade that Tony Blair wanted would have gone through, leaving a string of large casinos across the country.
This is one issue on which the church has punched well above its weight, and got some real results. I can be as critical of Marylebone Road as the next person, but on this one they have acted in the best traditions of the church out of concern for those who suffer. They deserve the thanks, support and prayers of the whole Methodist people.
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