During the coronavirus crisis, BGC is working hard to make gambling safer
BGC members are also introducing a number of new measures to restrict advertising online, writes Michael Dugher, CEO | PA Images
Prohibitionists may be using Covid-19 to kick the gambling industry, but thanks to the action we’ve taken, fears are unfounded and standards are on the up.
From the very start of the current lockdown, I knew that understandably there would be genuine concerns that isolation, boredom and financial anxiety might lead to an increase in gambling. Last week’s announcement from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) that we were introducing a voluntary ban on advertising gaming products on TV and radio was just the latest in a series of measures taken to reassure the public and further improve safer gambling at this time.
As DCMS Minister Nigel Huddleston put it well a few days ago: “We must work together to protect the most vulnerable from gambling harm. I appreciate the moves by the gambling sector to recognise the heightened risks of problem gambling during the coronavirus lockdown”.
From day one, members of the BGC substantially increased safer gambling messages across all our platforms and introduced a 10-pledge action plan back in March. This sets out a series of measures such as heightened monitoring of accounts, identifying changes to patterns of play and spend, as well as increasing interventions to restrict or block accounts where the customer might be at risk.
Last week the Government asked for safer gambling messages to be given more prominence in all adverts. I was pleased to announce that BGC members would go further and remove gaming product advertising on TV and radio and replace it with safer gambling messaging, donate adverts to charity or totally remove them where contracts permit. The BGC’s regulated members may only account for 50 per cent of all gambling advertising on TV and radio - we don’t represent other big gambling operators like the National Lottery and some other online bingo - but this voluntary change will apply 24 hours per day, seven days per week and our members are working to implement these changes as quickly as possible and to keep them in force until 5th June at a minimum.
At the same time, BGC members are also introducing a number of new measures to restrict advertising online. Following work with the Regulator, the Gambling Commission, our members will adopt a 25+ age filter for all advertising, trial de-targeting technology and create an industry-wide list for suppressing advertising around certain subjects. And BGC members have also stepped up safer gambling messages to customers via social media and with direct communications only where the customer has already given permission to contact them via text and email.
This month also saw the implementation of a ban on the use of credit cards with our members, which I strongly welcomed as a further safeguard to protect vulnerable customers. And I am pleased that the safer gambling charity GambleAware reported a record £10.05 million in funding from UK gambling operators and our members are committing a further £3.8 million for the BetRegret awareness campaign.
So what is the actual evidence in terms of the impact of covid-19 on gambling? The fact is overall gambling has fallen with betting shops, casinos and bingo halls all being closed. Online gambling revenue has also dropped by 30 per cent and total gambling revenue has dropped by some 60 per cent, based on recent trading announcements from major operators. To put this all into context, this is the equivalent to a drop in gambling by UK adults of £100 million per week.
Advertising spending by our members is also down and the volume of TV sport and casino advertisements had already dropped by up to 10 per cent.
I appreciate that working from home is driving us all a little stir crazy at the moment, but one prominent anti-gambling MP recently even said it was right to ban all advertising of gambling because “you wouldn’t advertise heroin on TV”. I’m all for engaging with the industry’s critics, but in all seriousness comparing things like the National Lottery or online bingo, that still advertise on the telly, with heroin is just plain daft.
The BGC and its members take their responsibilities seriously. Millions of people like the occasional flutter - 46 per cent of the adult population place a bet or gamble each month. The overwhelming majority enjoy a bet safely. Together our members directly employ over 70,000 people throughout the whole of the UK and contribute over £3 billon in tax each year.
Of course, I recognise that not all gambling operators are the same. It is why the BGC have called for a crackdown on the offshore black-market illegal gambling operators. Over £1.4bn is staked each year on the unregulated black market where there are no age and ID verification measures as in the regulated industry or any of the high safer gambling measures such as monitoring play and intervening with those at risk.
TheBGC want all customers to enjoy our products safely and responsibly, with help available for those who need it, when they need it. The work we are doing to help the tiny minority of gamblers who, as with alcohol or many other things, get into trouble is being improved all the time.
At the start of the covid-19 crisis, anti-gambling hardliners warned that there would be a huge increase in gambling, that operators would “cash in on covid” and that marketing and advertising would be stepped up to “groom” new customers to online betting. None of this is true. Of course I expect prohibitionists to keep shifting the goalposts and to keep using covid as their opportunity to kick the industry. But thanks to the action we have taken, standards are actually on the up and fears have proven unfounded.
Michael Dugher is the Chief Executive of the BGC and a former MP and Shadow Secretary of State for DCMS