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Regulation of Gambling Advertising

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the advertising of gambling on broadcast media before the watershed; and for connected purposes.

Opportunities to gamble have increased significantly in the United Kingdom in the past decade, both offline and online. Young people today are the first generation to grow up with gambling being seen by society as an acceptable form of entertainment or leisure activity. The proliferation of online gambling in particular, backed through blanket advertising, has brought into the home what was traditionally a male-dominated activity that took place in bookmakers. It is my concern about these changes in attitude to gambling, particularly in the young, that has prompted me to make this proposal that the law be changed to prohibit all forms of gambling adverts from television screens before the traditional watershed at 9 pm.

The number of TV gambling adverts has risen by a staggering 600% since the law was changed in 2007, when the sector was deregulated. These adverts now equate to one in 24 adverts on television. Ofcom research shows that gambling commercials have rocketed from just 234,000 in 2007 to 1.4 million last year. Under-16s are on average exposed to 211 adverts a year. This figure includes children as young as four who have seen and acknowledged the adverts. Bingo, the lottery and football pools have always been able to advertise on television. However, the Gambling Act 2005 made a specific exemption from the more general ban on advertising before the watershed for sports betting, largely because most matches take place before the 9 pm watershed. Most sporting events attract younger viewers and recent events that I have watched have been saturated with adverts for sports betting.

The rising number of young people who report themselves as gambling is stark. A report for the National Lottery Commission by Ipsos MORI in 2013, surveying more than 2,000 11 to 15-year-olds from 100 state-maintained schools, showed that no fewer than 15% of young teenagers had engaged in some form of gambling in the previous week. Some 2% of 11 to 12-year-olds and 1% of those aged 16 to 24 are estimated to have a gambling problem. That equates to approximately 127,500 young people who report themselves as having a gambling problem or addiction in the UK today.

It is not just the young people themselves who pay the price for their addiction; it is often society in general. Problem gambling is connected with a number of negative outcomes for young people. It has been linked to poor mental health, including major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety. It is also linked to crime—to feed the desire to gamble—and often, unfortunately, to substance abuse among the same group of young people. Many adults who present themselves for treatment for a gambling addiction or other problem say that their gambling started during childhood. Those facts make the worrying increase in the number of under-16s who are gambling not just a problem for today, but one that will have serious consequences for years to come.

GamCare, the industry-funded helpline and help centre for those who have a problem with gambling, said recently that 60% of its calls had come from those aged between 18 and 35. The most recent evidence shows that the number of people who are in danger of becoming problem gamblers in this country is nearly 1 million, and that the number of hardcore addicts has doubled to 500,000 in the six years since deregulation. It could not easily have been predicted when the law changed in 2007, following the Gambling Act 2005, that the growth in smartphone technology would cause such an expansion in the gambling industry, but it is now irrefutable that the number of opportunities to gamble have proliferated, and that the law has simply failed to keep up with technology. I believe that there is a direct causal link between the deregulation of gambling, coupled with a massive increase in advertising, and the increase in the number of young people who are gambling today.

I do not wish to prevent any adult from having access to gambling, or from receiving information about it. However, it is an age-related activity, and it seems only right and proper for us to protect young people from being exposed to advertisements for what is for some, albeit a small number, an addictive and harmful activity. Advertisements on television have great power. Young people, and indeed some adults, believe that if something is advertised on TV, it is bound to be harmless. Constant advertisements for gambling condition young people to believe that it is a fun or glamorous activity; indeed, some advertisements are endorsed by celebrities. We must restrict such advertisements to adults, who are better able to weigh the odds, to understand the risks and, crucially, to deal with the consequences of any gambling losses. Tobacco advertisements were banned from television in 1991, and we must act similarly now to ban gambling advertisements before the watershed.

Before proposing the Bill, I spent some time visiting an NHS clinic in Soho that treats those suffering from gambling addiction, and heard at first hand about the impact of advertisements on recovering addicts. I have also been in touch with parents and grandparents throughout my constituency, all of whom have spoken to me of their deep concern about the way in which their experience of watching television with their children and grandchildren is changing. Gambling advertisements now seem to dominate their screens, and children ask them about gambling and about how they can gamble during sports matches. I have also worked with local churches, which have given me fantastic support, and are advocating and praying for a change in the law. I thank them all for the work that they have done.

I recently launched the website to give people an opportunity to sponsor the Bill. In just two weeks, it has been signed by nearly 1,000 residents of Rossendale and Darwen, along with other people throughout the country. This is a public lobby asking for change, and I hope that the Government will act. I am delighted to have the support of Members on both sides of the House who are helping to prepare and bring in the Bill, but while I welcome the Government’s announcement that they are working with the Advertising Standards Authority to review the law, I urge them to act now.

Let me end by saying that I hope that, in years to come, we shall look back at gambling advertisements on television before the watershed with the same incredulity with which we now view tobacco advertising, smoking in restaurants, and people not wearing seat belts in cars. We must act now: it is time to stop gambling with the future of our young people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) is a good man, but in this instance he is badly misguided. During the last Parliament, under a Labour Government, I came to expect an assault on freedom and a triumph for the nanny state. That is what we expect from the Labour party, because that is what it is in business to do. It is always incredibly sad when the march of the nanny state and the illiberal side of the argument are to be observed on the Conservative Benches, and I therefore take no pleasure in having to respond to a move of this kind from our side.

It is interesting that my hon. Friend should have talked about the watershed. The watershed is, of course, becoming an increasingly redundant method of dealing with advertising, because people can play programmes back and view them at any time of day. I am not sure that the watershed is a forward-looking mechanism that my hon. Friend would wish to use even if anyone were to support his line of argument.

The point that my hon. Friend forgot to make when he was talking about children gambling is that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to enter a betting shop or place a bet there, or to place a bet online. If his contention is that people are breaking the law, he should surely introduce a measure to try to ensure that the law as it stands is enforced. That, rather than nanny-state measures such as this, is the way to solve the problem.

Some people have argued that gambling companies are making advertisements in order to groom a future generation of gamblers. Anyone who thinks that any company puts out advertisements in the hope that in about five years someone might place a bet or take out a contract with it is living in cloud cuckoo land. Long-term thinking for most businesses tends to relate to the end of the current financial year. The idea that the purpose of these advertisements is to store up future generations of customers is absolute nonsense.

I was also interested to hear what my hon. Friend envisaged being covered by the Bill. He seemed to be against the advertising of gambling if it involved horse racing or sports betting, including online betting, but to think that all other forms of gambling were fine. Bingo would presumably be fine; poker might be fine; perhaps financial products, whose the value can go up or down—which is certainly a gamble—would be fine, or perhaps the Bill would ban advertisements for them. I am not entirely sure what my hon. Friend’s definition of gambling is, but if it involves getting rid of advertisements for the Sun Life Over 50 Plan on the basis that its value can go down as well as up, that will probably be welcomed by many people who currently have to suffer those advertisements.

I should certainly like to know whether bingo would be involved, because only last week the Government were lauding the fact that they were encouraging more people to play bingo and gamble on it. My hon. Friend’s boss, the party chairman, even put up a poster to that effect. Perhaps my hon. Friend has presented this Bill only a week later because of the response to that advertisement. Perhaps he wants to prevent his boss from producing another advertisement for bingo in the future. Let me say as an aside that I thought that the party chairman’s poster should have read “The Conservatives, cutting taxes on bingo—the only person sweating is Ed Miliband”, but then I realised that the idea of anybody sweating might well be an alien concept to people down south, and would probably have been lost on the leadership of the Conservative party.

I am not sure why my hon. Friend seeks to have a go at certain forms of gambling but not others. I am not sure why losing £5 in a game of bingo is very much better than losing £5 on a bet on the Grand National; it seems to me that if you lose £5, you lose £5, and the form of gambling does not really matter.

Of course, children do not just watch TV, they look at lots of other media—for example, they read the newspapers. Does my hon. Friend want to ban advertising by gambling companies in newspapers lest a child see it? That seems a rather ridiculous extension of the Bill, but I cannot understand why, logically, he would allow advertising in newspapers but not on TV. That makes no sense.

The Bill’s other unintended consequence is that it would deny betting companies the opportunity to promote responsible gambling. I would have thought that we should encourage bookmakers to use their advertising space to encourage people to bet responsibly and set financial and time limits—that is a noble thing to do —but the Bill would prevent bookmakers from promoting responsible gambling to their customers.

Of course, most daytime programmes that would be affected by the Bill are targeted at older people. During term time, we would like to think that most children are at school. If people want to advertise on TV at a time when children cannot see it, during the day in term time is probably the best time. Yet my hon. Friend wants to ban adverts on TV at that particular time, which seems to defeat his object.

Problem gambling is declining in this country, despite the increase in gambling advertising. The Minister knows that the latest health survey for England records overall problem gambling at between 0.4% and 0.5%. That is a reduction from the 0.6% to 0.9% range in the previous gambling prevalence survey. The number of children gambling is the lowest ever. The survey to which my hon. Friend referred concluded that the overall rate of gambling is the lowest in the data series. That research also shows that the number of children who reported gambling online in the previous week had fallen from 3% to 1% since the liberalisation of gambling advertising.

My hon. Friend talked about the people aged between 16 and 24 who had a gambling problem. He would be better advised to seek a change in the law to stop 16 and 17-year-olds being able to gamble legally on the national lottery. It would be much more helpful if we allowed all gambling only at the age of 18. If he introduced a Bill to increase the age at which people can gamble on the lottery from 16 to 18, he would have my wholehearted support. I hope that he will consider that.

All the available academic research indicates that the impact of gambling advertising on young people and problem gambling is relatively small. The Government are already reviewing all the advertising rules and codes that apply to gambling. That review will report in the autumn.

Gambling advertising is important to the gambling industry but also to the advertising industry and the broadcasters. It is a huge revenue stream for companies such as ITV and Channel 4 that helps them make the high-quality programmes that we all wish them to make. I do not see the need to deprive them of that income.

Time has defeated me, but let me say that, of gambling adverts on TV in 2012, there were 532,000 for bingo—the gambling that the Government appear to want to promote to all and sundry—which is 38% of all the advertising. There were 411,000 adverts for online casinos and poker; 355,000 for lotteries and scratchcards; and just 91,000 for sports betting, which is the focus of the Bill.

The measure is an extension of the nanny state. It is illiberal and not backed up by any available evidence. I therefore hope that colleagues will reject it. I do not intend to try to deny my hon. Friend his opportunity today by seeking a Division. However, I hope that, in the fullness of time, the Minister will reject the Bill because it is just an extension of what we would have expected from the last Labour Government.

Question put and agreed to.


That Jake Berry, Mr Stewart Jackson, Mr David Lammy, Gordon Birtwistle, John Woodcock, Pauline Latham, Fiona Bruce, Jim Shannon, Alistair Burt and Sir Tony Baldry present the Bill.

Jake Berry accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time on Friday 16 May, and to be printed (Bill 195).