The Revd - writes 'Good News on Gambling'

Good News on Gambling

One of the Good News stories of 2019, and there will be quite a few, is that this year the law will change, introducing a £2 limit on fixed-odd betting machines. It will no longer be possible to pour £100 into a slot machine every twenty seconds.

Three hundred years ago parish priests were preaching sermons in pulpits about the evils of compulsive gambling. The biggest problem was that ‘gaming’ promoted equality. The rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate become equals when they sit around the table and place their faith and their vulnerability in the randomness of the dice. When the dice lands on the table, will the rich man become the poor man, or the poor man leave poorer still?  The problem for concerned clergy was that gambling had the power to upset the status quo and could do so in an instant. People who were educated and who were the pillars of establishment could, through a pack of cards, be reduced to surviving on the very frayed edges of society. Similarly, those who were of dubious reputation, could suddenly be elevated through ill-gotten wealth. Gambling threw order into chaos. It became a theological problem.

There was an increasing understanding, not least amongst the more middle classes who began to enjoy more time for leisure, that there was a right place for excitement and relaxation – games of random risk were fun and to be enjoyed. Blind man’s buff, a popular Tudor game, is after all a harmless game of risk. When is gambling harmless and when is it harmful?

The debate has now brought to light something that our C18th mothers and fathers did not have to deal with but which for our own generation is becoming everywhere apparent – and that is the blight of compulsive gambling that is presented very seductively to children. And it is subtle. The fact that a 11-year-old can now download a computer game for free but then needs to buy add-ons and extras – known as microtransactions - whilst playing the game, in their own bedroom, risks bringing young impressionable minds into the compulsive gambling arena. We are now told that 50 000 children have a gambling problem. That is harmful. We should all feel that pain. Compulsive gambling is no longer the prerogative of adults. Parents cannot afford to be naïve about this threat to innocence.

Back in the good old days of 1793, a Hampshire Vicar inspired his congregation with the words, “Gamesters… cheat God of their time, their Redeemer of their affections, fellow man of their exertions, and risk their salvation on the issue of such a miserable misspent life.”

And we might add, seriously need our prayers.

God Bless