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Gambling Advertising

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the increasing prevalence of gambling advertising, as reported in the Gambling Commission’s Review of online gambling, published in March.

My Lords, the growth of online gambling has seen increased advertising for these products on TV and in social media. There are strict controls on the content and targeting of gambling advertising. A survey of evidence found that its impact on problem gambling was likely to be relatively small. We have set out a range of measures to strengthen protections further, including new guidance and research and tougher sanctions for breaches of the advertising codes.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The extent of the social problems caused by problem gambling has become clear and is widely reported by all sorts of people. Indeed, last week the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, raised the issue of the huge cost of problem gambling to the NHS. In the light of this and other concerns, is it not time to bring in tougher regulation for online advertising and reconsider a mandatory levy on gambling companies to contribute to the cost of treating gambling addiction?

Specialist treatment for gambling addiction, including the NHS national problem gambling clinic, is funded by GambleAware. We believe that this is a valuable addition to publicly funded treatment for other addictions and mental health conditions. GambleAware has published its donations and pledges covering the first quarter of the year. On the right reverend Prelate’s question about a levy, we are very clear that if the voluntary system does not provide sufficient funding, we will consider all options, including a mandatory levy.

My Lords, there have been many questions in both this House and the other place, as well as my noble friend Lord Chadlington’s excellent debate on the subject. The time for talking is past. When will we follow the lead provided by Italy this summer in banning all gambling advertisements on TV, on radio and online?

I know about the examples in Italy and Australia. I start by saying that gambling is a legitimate leisure pursuit, so it can be advertised. However, as I said, we have strict rules about content and targeting of advertisements. We have outlined a package of measures to strengthen protections further and we will continue to monitor the situation carefully, particularly with respect to children. That is very important.

My Lords, is it not deplorable that television companies, such as Sky, actively encourage and pressure betting companies to maximise their adverts on television? Incidentally, these companies made profits of £162 million through this last year. Is it not appalling that they also use presenters of sports programmes to present these gambling adverts, as though they were one and the same, as they did in spoiling the coverage of the recent test matches?

As with advertising, sponsorship arrangements must be socially responsible. They must never be targeted at children. The gambling industry code requires that gambling logos must not appear on any merchandise. However, I take note of the noble Lord’s points. There are strict controls and, indeed, some sanctions have been imposed.

My Lords, has not the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, absolutely hit the point? Not only was the Gambling Commission’s report into online gambling in March inadequate but the forthcoming licence conditions and codes of practice will be inadequate, because they do not deal with the volume of advertising, particularly on live sporting events, whether online or on television. Why cannot the Minister pledge to review those licence conditions in the light of what has been said today?

As my noble friend Lord Ashton has said, what counts is what is effective. All operators offering gambling services to customers in Great Britain must be licensed by the Gambling Commission, regardless of where they are based. If licence conditions are breached, operators can be fined and their licences can even be revoked. There have been some prosecutions and penalties of up to £18 million have been imposed.

My Lords, the noble Viscount said in his earlier reply that he was particularly concerned about the targeting of children. Has he had a chance to look at the social responsibility code that goes in the gambling guidelines? Can he bring in line both remote and non-remote forms of gambling so that children are protected from being targeted in this way?

The noble Lord makes a good point. I deliberately mentioned children earlier because the advertising codes include strict controls. Adverts must not be targeted to children, appeal particularly to children or young people or exploit vulnerable people or those for whom gambling may lead to financial, social or emotional harm. This is something that we take extremely seriously and continue to look at.

My Lords, years ago the UK abolished the advertising of tobacco in any form. When it is so evident that problem gambling and gambling among young people, according to recent evidence, are generating so much tragedy and potential disaster for individuals and families, why can we not now, in 2018, do the same with gambling?

I say to the noble Lord what has been said in the House before: problem gambling has stayed static, at under 1% of adults, despite a steep rise in advertising since 2007. However, this is not the end of the story, because we are seeking more research. More work needs to be done. A major research survey by Per Binde in 2014 concluded that the impact was not particularly big, but he is doing more research as we speak.

My Lords, what are the odds on the Government’s taking sensible action before the end of this Parliament?

My Lords, is not the substantive problem here that the advertising issues that need to be regulated should be dealt with by an independent statutory agency, whereas they are currently the responsibility of a body that is sponsored and funded by the industry that would be affected by such regulations?

As I said, we believe that the voluntary approach is right. The Committees of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice rightly maintain the advertising codes. The rules are, of course, enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority.

My Lords, over the past 12 months, the Minister and fellow Ministers have on numerous occasions indicated that government policy is to reduce the exposure of young people to gambling advertising. What evidence can he give to the House that he is having any success whatever with that objective?

I can some give some evidence. The number of gambling advertisements seen on TV by children and 16 to 24 year-olds rose until 2013 and has declined each year since.