Has gambling advertising reached its watershed?

Today Helen Grant MP described gambling advertising as ‘pervasive’ while announcing a set of measures clamping down on the betting industry, put together as much for enhanced player protection as they have with one eye on next’s year’s General Election.

While it obviously isn’t a good sign for the gambling industry (or indeed the TV companies), the government has actually been less prescriptive on this issue than it has on the operation of FOBT gaming machines or planning law regarding betting shops. Indeed, it appears to allow the industry to take the lead on the matter. In the Gambling Protections and Controls document released today, the DCMS suggests it will defer to a report by the gambling industry itself.

It commented: “It is timely that the codes are re-examined to ensure that existing controls keep pace with developments in the market, provide adequate protection – especially to children and the vulnerable – and remain consistent with public expectations about gambling advertising.”

The document said that the government has initiated the following work:

  • The Remote Gambling Association will make recommendations to Government on any changes needed to the industry voluntary code, including on the suitability of the 9pm watershed arrangements.
  • The Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice will evaluate the latest evidence in relation to gambling advertising and problem gambling to consider what regulatory implications arise as a result.
  • The Advertising Standards Authority will report on the proportionality, robustness and consistency of its enforcement action on the gambling rules.
  • The Gambling Commission will ensure that its current review of licence conditions and codes of practice (which includes a focus on free bets and bonuses) ensures that all gambling advertising continues to comply with the licensing objectives of the Gambling Act 2005.

Putting the issue of the watershed aside one moment, the two panels looking at advertising around problem gambling will find that since this ‘explosion’ of gambling advertising on television, problem gambling rates have actually gone down. The ASA will no doubt find that in the main the gambling industry has been quite compliant and where they have transgressed rules, it has usually been inadvertent as the industry and the regulator get to grips with what is and isn’t allowed.

However it is the current bonus scheme and terminology which seems most under threat with both the ASA and the Gambling Commission picking up on ‘free bet’ offers and the increasingly labyrinthine way of activating bonuses. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing for the industry to revisit given that sign-up bonuses have barely changed in 10 years.

Watershed moment

So what will happen to the watershed? Will all gambling advertising be banished to post 9pm slots? I doubt that would be the RGA’s advice to the government, and neither should it be given that it would be a disproportionate reaction to protection of the vulnerable.

Gambling can only be played by over 18s – unless of course it is the National Lottery.  It is an adult product and should be allowed to market itself that way. The alcohol industry doesn’t have a watershed. There are just banned from appearing in and around programmes commissioned for or principally targeted at audiences below the age of 18, as well as programmes likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.

If gambling, as a similar age-controlled product, followed a similar route, then it could be argued that the regulations should be more permissive for gambling advertising rather than more restrictive. There is an argument to be had about whether televised football is ‘likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18’ but given alcohol can be freely advertised around games, it seems not.

The main objection it seems to gambling advertising is that there is ‘so much’ of it when, in reality, it is there is so much MORE of it. We don’t notice the number of adverts for alcohol as society is used them. If you can advertise alcohol, then there should be no objection in advertising gambling as well.

Gambling advertising will be discussed at next week’s Betting on Football Conference at Stamford Bridge.


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