Gambling & The Methodist Church

by Richard on March 3, 2008

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.

Related posts on other blogs:
Paul Martin

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


PamBG 03.03.08 at 9:37 pm

I think it’s a matter of approach and I don’t pretend to be an expert in the working of politics.

Is it better to stand outside and scream condemnation at the gambling industry? What if that has no effect?

Or is it better to listen to the industry and talk to it and try to have some influence even if the outcome is not perfect - hoping that this will have an effect?

Although it would have kept us looking pure to stand outside and scream condemnation, it seems that the road we took did have some effect.

Like most real life situations, this one is very complicated. I confess that I can neither be absolutely certain that what we did was 100% correct - I’m really very negative about ALL forms of gambling. But I come into this thinking that Church House tried to do what was right and what would help. I don’t believe that they sold their souls, as some people seem to think.


John 03.03.08 at 10:24 pm

The reform is a good one. Gambling is bad, but in a free society, consenting adults should be free to do whatever they want with their money or their bodies.


James 03.03.08 at 11:01 pm

The uncertaincy and timidness with which the Methodist Church has approached the issue of gambling is, as a Methodist myself, slighty disconcerting. Don’t you guys pray to God for guidence in these matters? What does he tell you to do?


Bene D 03.04.08 at 3:38 am

One of the difficulties the anti-gambling advocates face is approach.

Gambling is pervasive, and effects us spiritually, economically, politically in every aspect of our lives as individuals and as societies.

Anti-gambling advocates will tell you gambling is a huge industry, such a huge force that experts wind up working in rather narrow fields - ie: economic, policy, spiritual, research, addiction, etc.

Grass roots anti gambling advocates will be happy to tell you the most difficult fellows to work with are those that approach their gambling concerns and anti-gambling battles from a strictly moral base, whether it is a municipal battle over slots or a national decision such as a moritoruim on casinos.
The expertise and tenacity required to win small victories tends to elude those that approach fighting gambling initiatives only on moral grounds.

That having been said, the voice of denominations is so critical, as a block, as a whole. From the moral and spiritual standpoint a denomination can have impact on policy. It’s always just temporary, but those victories are very important.

Denominations are often misunderstood in their approach, most often by those in the pews. And while that’s too bad, it goes with the territory, and is expected by anyone working in this field.

One of the best things the disgrundled pew sitters unhappy with how their denomination is lobbying can be told is to ‘go do.’
They find out very quickly whether they make attempts as individuals or small groups this kind of advocacy work is incredibly hard, incredibly frustrating, incredibly time consuming and very multi-layered.

I commend British Methodists and The Salvation Army of the UK for the very effective work they are doing in this field. The average British Methodist in the pew is quite aware their denomination is setting world class standards for others.


matt dicks 05.28.08 at 2:59 pm

I’m a reporter from iTV Wales and am doing a piece on gaming machines in Amusement Arcades and about how new regualtaions are limiting the number arcades are allowed to have. I’d imagine those oppoed to gambling would welocme this. Just looking for someone to interview in the anti-gambling camp.

My numbe ris 02920 898433 or 07803 177992.



Ken 06.01.08 at 9:49 pm

I am inclined to agree with John that we must allow people to have the choice. We have the God given gift of free will and we mustn’t deny others the right to use it. However, I believe that we have a responsibility and duty to educate and inform others about the risks involved. It is also important to have a consistent view on the issue. As with alcohol, we send out mixed messages. A neighbour, who is not a Methodist commented recently that she used to know what Methodists believe but not any longer.

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