After 35 years of virtually unchanged gambling legislation, in November 2003 the Government released details of a draft bill aimed at deregulating the UK’s £40bn gambling industry.
Among other proposals, culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell outlined plans to introduce an unspecified number of Las Vegas-style mega-casinos. The Salvation Army has a long history of concern for those affected by problem gambling and sought to highlight the dangers of relaxing the law.
To curb the liberalisation of hard forms of gambling such as casinos and high-value fruit machines. To close some of the current loopholes in gambling legislation, including the ability for children to access fruit machines.
Strategy and Plan
In a bid to position itself as one of the foremost commentators on gambling issues, in December 2003 the Salvation Army commissioned an NOP poll.
This highlighted some of the public’s key concerns about gambling, giving fuel to a media campaign and providing the basis for the organisation’s submission to a committee of MPs looking at the bill’s proposals.
On the back of these findings, the Salvation Army was invited to give oral evidence to the committee. Working in close partnership with the Methodist Church, the team lobbied ministers, officials and cross-party front-bench spokespeople at every stage of the bill’s parliamentary passage. This involved pro-bono support from Four Communications.
The Salvation Army further sought to mobilise its church and charitable members. For example, its youth arm ran a postcard campaign asking Jowell to prevent children gambling on fruit machines.
Measurement and Evaluation
A significant number of MPs from all parties expressed considerable unease about the Government’s stance on the bill.
From October to December 2004, the Salvation Army achieved 17 national TV and radio interviews, including BBC Breakfast News, Channel 4 News, BBC 2’s daily Politics Show and Radio 5 Live. There were 66 national print media articles in this period, including 13 mentions in the Daily Mail, eight mentions in The Times and five in The Daily Telegraph.
In places where there were proposals for casinos, there was significant
regional interest, and the campaign racked up 36 local radio interviews and 51 regional print media mentions in titles including the Manchester Evening News and Bournemouth’s Daily Echo. In addition, in-house evaluation showed that the NOP poll commissioned at the start of the campaign was still being quoted more than 12 months later.
On 16 December, the Government introduced a cap on the number of casinos that can be built in the UK over the next five years. At most there will be only eight casinos in each region until further research is carried out into their social impact.
The number of high-prize gambling machines to be allowed in regional casinos was also capped. Furthermore, in the interests of protecting children, fruit machines are set to be removed from more than 6,000 unlicensed premises, such as fish-and-chip shops.
Labour MP Rob Marris, who was concerned about the potential risks to children, has been in contact with the Salvation Army since the early stages of the draft bill, and says the organisation’s ‘lobbying of MPs and ministers had a significant effect on limiting the number of large-scale casinos that might be introduced as a result of legislation’.