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House of Lords Hansard
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Gambling Advertising
25 June 2020
Volume 804

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the rules relating to (1) online, and (2) television, gambling advertising.

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My Lords, gambling advertising is subject to strict controls on content and placement wherever it appears. Ads must never seek to target children or vulnerable people, and the ASA and the Gambling Commission can take action in the case of a breach. The Government have committed to reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that it is fit for the digital age, and we will announce further details on this in due course.

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I say to my noble friend the Minister: enough is enough. We have been discussing gambling and its dangers, particularly to vulnerable people and particularly within the current lockdown, for a long time now, yet we still seem to have an enormous amount of advertising of gambling on both television and radio and, in particular—with no restraint whatever, voluntary or otherwise—on the online systems. I must ask my noble friend that action be taken. If nothing else, can we please return the whole control of gambling to the Home Office, where at least regulations exist that would allow us to take further action to protect our public?

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My noble friend brings great experience to this, including from his time as a Minister at the Home Office. There are no plans currently to move responsibility for gambling to the Home Office, although my department works very closely with the Home Office and others in overseeing this. In relation to my noble friend’s comments about social media, work is going on specifically on that area to make sure that adverts are not targeted at people under 25 or at children. We are working actively with the platforms to ensure that gambling ads do not appear for those who have self-excluded from gambling.

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My Lords, almost a year ago on 2 July, in a parliamentary Statement, the Government announced three measures agreed with gaming companies to

“deliver real and meaningful progress on support for problem gamblers”.—[Official Report, 2/7/19; col. 1345.]

The noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said the Government expected change and, if it did not manifest, would take other measures and did not rule out legislation. Is the Government’s judgment that the industry’s actions are delivering real, meaningful progress? What metrics are the Government using, and will they publish their calculations?

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The main metric that the Government use to measure the extent of problem gambling is the British Gambling Prevalence Survey, which looks at population levels of problem gambling. That has remained unchanged over 20 years, at slightly below 1%. I appreciate the context of the noble Lord’s question: with the prevalence of gambling advertising and promotion, intuitively one would expect that figure to rise, but there is not evidence for that at the moment.

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My Lords, although GAMSTOP has clearly been an effective tool that has enabled problem gamblers to control their activities online, repetitive advertising on social media, particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, remains a problem. Does the Minister agree that there should be discussions with the leading social media companies to seek a solution which would prevent the reappearance of advertisements which a user has, on a previous occasion, decided to hide?

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My Lords, I struggled slightly to hear the noble Lord’s question, so if my answer is not accurate I will happily write, but I think the question was around social media. A lot of work is going on in that area, with the platforms, to ensure that those who have excluded themselves already are not targeted by advertising and that children and vulnerable people are not targeted.

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My Lords, I am a gambler, I confess, and I am very much opposed to the nanny state. However, Blair’s Gambling Act has made some people very rich—some disgustingly rich, frankly—at the expense of the vulnerable and of some of the poorest members of our society. Banning television and online advertisements and, indeed, those at football grounds as well, would not be government interference; it would be a necessary step to protect some people who are, frankly, unable to look after themselves. Will my noble friend please look at that very carefully?

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I thank my noble friend for his honesty and his question. We will obviously be reviewing a range of options when we come to review the Gambling Act. The evidence around the impact of advertising on problem gambling, as opposed to all gambling, is really not clear, with much suggesting that, particularly for young people, it is parents and their peers who have the greatest influence on their behaviour.

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My Lords, among problem gamblers, 55,000 are 11 to 16 year-old children, many of whom use legal music and film download websites that are often funded by gambling advertising. Will the Government immediately consider legislation to enable these sites to be blocked, and not wait for the long overdue review of gambling legislation?

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The noble Lord raises a very important point, which I am happy to take back to my colleagues in the department and the Minister responsible.

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Is my noble friend aware of the recent review of 23 April that claimed there is too much gambling advertising on TV? While I recognise that the gambling group has halted TV and radio ads during lockdown, is not the area where action needs to be taken the really worrying aspect of special offers for casino gambling, which we all know is addictive? Will my noble friend look very seriously at this problem?

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On gambling advertising on television, again, this feels counterintuitive, but the data from the ASA shows that in 2013 children saw 4.4 gambling ads each week and that had fallen to 2.5 in 2019. Obviously, we introduced the whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising on matches on television. In relation to online casinos, the Gambling Commission recently recommended curbs on VIP schemes across various forms of gambling, which will be implemented in the coming months. It is committed to addressing any additional gaps that are identified.

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Excessive gambling is a public health challenge, with thousands of people—as the noble Baroness just said, 1% of the population—incurring debt and a high proportion of those experiencing mental health problems. Yet we continue to be one of the top 10 countries for gambling advertising online based on knowledge-based marketing. Will the Minister inform the House whether the Government intend to further limit such advertising, particularly pop-up ads on social media platforms, to absolve the need to self-exclude? This would prevent the associated harm to health caused by gambling.

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I regret I can only repeat what I have already said in terms of the close work that is going on with the social media companies and the commitment from the Gambling Commission to address any additional gaps that are identified. However, the noble Baroness makes an important point, which we recognise.

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As a recent APPG report confirms, gambling companies have done extremely well out of the pandemic, mainly because of the growth in unregulated activity. There is a lot of talk about working with the social media companies, but no action seems ever to follow. Will the Minister confirm that one of the real and meaningful steps that the Government actually could take to safeguard children and vulnerable players would be by blocking certain online platforms? Will she do that? If not, why not?

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Just to be clear again on the data, unsurprisingly, because there has been no sport during lockdown, 75% of people have not increased their expenditure either of time or money on gambling during lockdown. We should not be surprised about that because there has been no sport broadcast. We are looking at a range of measures and waiting for evidence being published by Public Health England and the National Institute for Health Research. We are preparing a national addiction strategy. The Government are absolutely committed to addressing the problems that arise from gambling and other addictive behaviours, but doing that in the round rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed, and we will therefore move to the third Oral Question.