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We must make our gambling legislation fit for purpose

4 min read

It’s time to act decisively to end children’s exposure to gambling advertising – or we risk a future gambling epidemic, warns Lord Chadlington 

There are some 500,000 problem gamblers in the UK and a further two million people are in danger. Some experts estimate that two suicides every working day can be attributed, at least in part, to problem gambling. Many are high potential young people under 25.

We don’t know how many children and teenagers, being groomed to gamble online, will add to these tragic statistics in the next ten years or so. Go online and look at ‘Robin of Sherwood Slots’, ‘Jumanji Video Slot’ and ‘White King Slot’ casino games. Look at games like ‘Fortnite’ which provide opportunities to bet, encouraging the belief in the young that gambling enhances gameplay.

The UK gambling industry spent £312m last year to persuade us all to gamble – an increase of 63% over five years, with TV advertising up by 43% and online advertising 87%. Tellingly, 2018 international World Cup football fixtures are exempt from gambling advertising on pitch hoardings, whereas BBC research shows that 95% of all televised UK football matches in 2017 had gambling advertisements in commercial breaks. As I write, Evening Standard newspaper stands in London have staff wearing t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Paddy Power’ and ‘Betfair’. Philip Bowcock, CEO of William Hill, told his shareholder meeting “I have teenage children and we are sympathetic to some sort of curb or some sort of review around the level of advertising.”

This marketing drive ‘normalises’ gambling, making people believe that they cannot enjoy sport for itself but only if they have the added thrill of risking money.

Some countries are taking urgent action. Australia has banned all advertising during televised live sporting events and immediately before and after transmission; Belgium is doing the same and Italy – which has some 20% fewer problem gamblers than the UK – has just announced, from January 2019, a blanket ban on all gambling advertising on and offline – a decision which gives the lie to those who say we cannot do anything about online gambling advertising. Breaking that ban will carry a minimum £44,000 fine.

Matt Hancock, when he was DCMS Secretary of State, told me: “Irresponsible gambling can have serious consequences. Whilst we’ve taken action to limit the most addictive gambling machines, we have plans to do more. We’re looking at online gambling advertising and in particular the aggressive targeting of children.”

What should the government be doing?

First, we urgently need more independent and objective research into gambling – particularly the suicide risks and impact on children. Good and effective law is based on robust information.

Second, I support the DCMS’s plans to educate young people about gambling-related harm, but when the government realises something is addictive and harmful to the young – like fixed-odds betting terminals – then we must implement that brave decision immediately and not wait until 2020! We must lead by example.

Third, consideration must be given to a ban on all gambling advertising during live sporting events and an hour before and after the screening. Further independent research is again needed to evaluate whether a blanket ban is required.

Fourth, we need a nationwide programme backed by the DCMS and the DHSC to help those already addicted, those at risk of gambling-related harm and supporting affected families.

Who should fund this four-point programme? Currently there is a 0.1% voluntary gambling industry levy which this year will generate less than £10m. This levy must be made mandatory and increased to 1%, generating some £130m every year to be directed to a new independent commission which would execute and monitor the above strategy.

To ensure that our UK gambling legislation is fit for purpose, we need this independent review and scrutiny of digitised multimedia marketing if we are to avoid a gambling epidemic in the UK and if we are not going to look back in ten years’ time and wonder why we sat on our hands.

Italy has recognised the severity of the problem and acted decisively. Why can’t we? 

Lord Chadlington is a Conservative peer

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