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We need to take bold action with gambling-related harm

3 min read

The tobacco advertising ban in 1965 positively shaped lives. We need to take equally bold action to tackle gambling-related harm, writes Lord Chadlington

I am surprised to find myself not only agreeing with Tom Watson – but even urging him to be more extreme! That’s how strongly I feel regarding the Labour party consultation paper on UK gambling policy.

First, gambling advertising. The paper recommends a whistle-to-whistle ban. Since 2012, gambling advertising has increased by 63% to £312m last year. Viewers were overwhelmed by 90 minutes of advertising – a full football game on its own – during the 2018 World Cup. Is it therefore surprising that we now have 2 million people at risk of joining the estimated 430,000 problem gamblers already in the UK?

Australia has banned gambling advertising during live sporting events and five minutes before and after the whistle, only to find that the hour before and after matches were crammed with such advertising. We should learn from the Australian experience and ban gambling advertising for at least an hour before and after live sporting events. Government should also evaluate the online threats – not only advertising, but in-game gambling opportunities – in loot boxes.

Second, how should we help problem gamblers and educate young people about the risks of gambling? Again, I agree with the consultation paper: we must increase the levy on gambling companies from a voluntary 0.1% - which raises about £10m per year - to a mandatory 1% which would contribute £130m annually.

These funds should be used for treatment and education and, as the consultation paper suggests, be used for independent research into the effects of gambling advertising particularly on young children, family life and addictive behaviour. Any legislation must be based on reliable and indisputable research.

Third, independence is crucial. Labour’s consultation paper raises concerns about the ‘perceived closeness to the gambling industry’ of GambleAware. This may be a hangover from the past but there is a strong case for an overhaul of existing government and quasi-government bodies involved in gambling supervision. There may be a need for establishing a new, independent body with a clear remit, supported by all political parties.

One subject which the consultation paper does not adequately address is the alarming increase in suicide among young people where gambling has been a contributory factor. According to the ‘Gambling with Lives’ website, there is at least one gambling-related suicide every morning and every afternoon each working day.

I have been working with some of these bereaved families and it is scandalous that since the 2005 Gambling Act, successive Governments have been so slow to recognise, as the Labour paper suggests, that the UK is on the lip of a gambling epidemic.

My grandchildren may well look back on this period of UK social history when we allowed almost unfettered gambling marketing with the same bewilderment that we all now look back at a time when cigarette smoking was freely advertised on TV and sponsorship of, for example, Formula 1. Worryingly, Formula 1 just confirmed a $100m global betting sponsorship deal.

The tobacco advertising ban in 1965 positively shaped lives. We need to take equally bold action with gambling-related harm. By doing so we will also save lives, improve mental health and prevent many young people becoming problem gamblers.

There are so many issues on which the Government and the opposition are divided. But here is one subject on which – judging by this Labour party consultation paper and recent opinion polls – there is so much common ground which also reflects the wishes of great swathes of the UK population.

So why don’t we just get on with it? 

Lord Chadlington is a Conservative peer

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