Monday 15 June 2020 5:50 pm

MPs call for total ban on gambling adverts ahead of Premier League restart

A group of more than 50 MPs and peers has called for a total ban on gambling adverts in a new report that urges for a wide-scale overhaul of British gambling laws.

In a report set to be published tomorrow, a cross-party group of MPs will urge the government to enforce tighter controls on the £11bn gambling industry, including a total ban on TV and digital advertising, the Guardian reported.

Read more: Gambling firms pull TV and radio advertising during Covid-19 lockdown

Proposals set out by the group also include an end to VIP betting schemes, a £2 stake limit on slot machines, independent affordability checks, and controls on gambling game design.

The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group (GRH APPG) also called for data used by gambling firms to lure customers back to their sites to be used more ethically. 

“They have algorithms where if you are spending significant sums, they can make you a VIP, or send you a bonus email, both of which are to their commercial advantage,” the report said. “So, there is no reason why this data cannot be used to prevent gambling harm.”

Industry watchdog the Gambling Commission recently recommended curbs on the controversial VIP schemes, whose members account for the bulk of revenue for many gambling firms.

But the cross-party group of MPs warned the commission’s proposals were inadequate, and called on the commission to abolish the schemes altogether. MPs added that the Gambling Commission was “not fit for purpose”, claiming it had not adapted to technical change.

A spokesperson for the Gambling Commission told City A.M: “A ban or significant restrictions on gambling advertising are matters for government. Our recent challenge to the industry to explore and quickly accelerate opportunities to reduce the amount of online advertising seen by children, young people and vulnerable adults has seen strengthened online advertising rules put in place.”

Problem gambling

Gambling advertising has proliferated since it was permitted by the 2005 Gambling Act under Tony Blair. According to problem gambling charity Gamble Aware, gambling groups spent £1.5bn on marketing in 2017 — the most recent year for which figures are available.

This marked a 56 per cent increase since 2014. Just under half of people in England gamble every month, according to the latest statistics from the Gambling Commission, while roughly seven per cent do so as a way to earn money to get by day-to-day.

Pandemic betting

In April the Betting and Gaming Council announced a moratorium on all gambling adverts during the coronavirus crisis following the cancellation of most sporting events. However, advertising is set to resume ahead of the Premier League’s return to national TV on Wednesday.

MPs have warned that gambling addiction, which is estimated to cost the UK up to £1.2bn per year, is likely to be exacerbated under lockdown due to a combination of payment holidays and boredom. 

A recent poll by Survation showed that regular gamblers were gambling more during the pandemic. Out of more than 1,000 people surveyed, a quarter of those who typically bet at least once a week said they were still doing so, while 28 per cent had increased their activity, and 11 per cent said they were gambling a lot more.

Carolyn Harris, Labour MP and chair of the GRH APPG, told the Guardian: “This multimillion-pound industry has destroyed people’s lives. They have shown time and again that they will not effectively self-regulate. Urgent change is needed to stop this industry riding roughshod over people’s lives.”

New problem gambling fund

It comes as The Betting and Gaming Council today announced that its five largest members will inject £100m between them for treatment services for problem gamblers.

Bet365, GVC, Flutter Entertainment — which owns Paddy Power and Betfair — Sky Betting and Gaming and William Hill said they will provide funds to problem gambling charity Gamble Aware. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “delighted” at the move, adding: “I’ve seen first hand how problem gambling can damage people’s mental health and affect the lives of those around them – and I’ve been determined to help protect vulnerable people from the impacts.”

Minister for sport Nigel Huddleston said: “We have been clear that the gambling industry has a responsibility to protect people from gambling-related harm and support those who have been affected.”

“I welcome the Betting and Gaming Council now outlining how it will deliver on leading operators’ pledges to bolster research, education and treatment. We will monitor closely the progress of these new measures and continue to encourage the wider industry to step up.”

But many cautioned that the announcement proved little more than a PR exercise for the gambling firms ahead of the reintroduction of gambling adverts on TV this week.

Read more: William Hill share price jumps on hope Bundesliga betting turns around its fortunes

Ronnie Cowan, SNP MP and member of the GRH APPG, said: “The big five continue to control research and education which should be completely independent of any influence from the gambling industry.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that the owners of Betfred — which is not one of the so-called big five gambling firms — were making millions of pounds from a business that treated addictions including gambling.

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