Bishop wages war on sports gambling

The Rt Revd Dr Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans

Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith - Credit: Archant

The Bishop of St Albans is calling on the Football Association to lead the way in tackling gambling in sport, rather than having to respond to mounting public concern.

Church of England bishop Alan Smith – who oversees churches across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and parts of North London –

is concerned about what he describes as the ‘gamblification’ of sport.

He explained: “When I was young, we loved watching football and cheering our side on but you didn’t have to gamble. The gambling industry has persuaded people that the need to bet is integral to sport.” 

Several years ago he was inspired to launch a campaign that could transform the role of gambling in British public life following a visit by a grieving family.

The bishop was deeply impacted by the visit from a family whose son had taken his life because of his struggle with problem gambling. 

In his role as a member of the House of Lords, he has since fought to combat gambling-related harm. 

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In a recent podcast interview with Church Times Bishop Smith recalled the visit from the family. “They sat in my study, they broke down. They said we don’t know what to do. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Can you help? 

“I felt very helpless. I listened to them, prayed with them, then I put some questions down in the House of Lords.” 

The questions revealed the lack of government statistics about the extraordinary growth in online gambling and the harm it was having, with possibly one or two people taking their lives every day in the UK. 

After he raised the issue, Bishop Smith was inundated with people writing to him. Many told him about a family member who had taken their life because of problem gambling and urging him to continue with the campaign.  

Several years on, there is now a coalition of around 150 peers – the largest lobby group in the Lords – seeking to lessen the impact of problem gambling. A report by a Select Committee is calling for widespread changes to the Gambling Act dating from 2005. 

They want TV advertising of gambling to be restricted, and for the gambling industry to pay levies to meet the costs of tackling problem gambling. They point out that the NHS runs 14 problem gambling clinics at a time when funds are under desperate pressure.