We cannot wait for children to become tomorrow’s problem gamblers to regulate sports advertising
Premier League football team West Ham United, whose shirt sponsor is gambling firm Betway, during a game versus Southampton FC, December 2021 | Alamy
The delayed white paper on gambling reform offers a once in a generation chance to deal with the vast proliferation of gambling advertising that now dominates our screens.
The minister in the Lords, Lord True, said last month that as a sports fan, he is “sick and tired of gambling advertising being thrust down the throats of viewers”. He is not alone in feeling like this. The Royal Society for Public Health has recently published polling showing that 77 per cent of adults and 66 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds would support a complete ban on advertising.
But, of course, policy must be based not on how voters feel but on the evidence – and there is now detailed evidence of the harm that gambling advertising can cause.
In terms of reach, recently published data from the University of Bristol set out that more than 45 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds and 72 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds said they see gambling advertising at least once per week on their social media feed. A quarter of children and 37 per cent of young people report seeing it daily. The gambling industry’s spend on advertising is also growing rapidly, increasing by 24 per cent in just three years.
Despite claims from the gambling industry that advertising is not harmful, there is extensive evidence to the contrary, and this is even acknowledged by the Advertising Standards Authority. Examples include research by the Ipsos Mori and the University of Stirling which found that 96 per cent of people aged 11 to 24 had seen gambling marketing messages in the last month and were more likely to bet as a result. A study published in December 2021 shows advertising is a predictor of at risk and problem gambling in secondary school children.
Gambling logos can appear more than 700 times in a single televised football match
While we note that the industry claims to have taken action through the whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling adverts on TV, there are still logos emblazoned on football shirts and on match hoardings in the whistle-to-whistle period. A recent documentary on Channel 4 by Baroness Davidson found that gambling logos can appear more than 700 times in a single televised football match.
To protect children it is essential that decisive action is taken. This is why the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm and Peers for Gambling Reform propose a balanced approach to reform. We propose that gambling advertising and sponsorship should be limited to the extent it was prior to the previous Gambling Act. We accept that finding new sponsors for lower league football teams may take time, which is why we propose a three-year phasing-in period for a ban for these teams.
In recognition of the reliance of some sports on gambling revenue, and for those sports such as horse racing and greyhound racing, which few children watch or participate in, there could be “carve-outs” allowing these sports to continue to have gambling sponsors.
Losses from gambling sponsorship could be off-set by offering sporting bodies “sports betting rights”, charging gambling companies a fee for the right to use sporting content and to offer bets on sporting competitions.
All personalised direct marketing and all forms of inducements to gamble should be prohibited.
We acknowledge that some sports are concerned about their loss of revenue from advertising but gambling sponsorship revenue is a small revenue source relative to the total, and it is of course critical to note that non-gambling sponsors exist to fill any gap created, as occurred after tobacco sponsorship was banned.
While those who are anti-reform and profit directly from gambling will resist it, it is right for policy makers to take sensible precautions to prevent harm based on the best available evidence now, rather than waiting to assess levels of problem gambling in the future among adults who have been exposed to gambling advertising as children. This government must therefore take decisive action on gambling advertising and do so now.
Carolyn Harris is Labour MP for Swansea East and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.