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House of Commons Hansard
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Gambling Advertising in Sport
19 March 2020
Volume 673

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —(David Rutley.)

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Before we proceed, I should say that we have had official apologies from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is unable to be with us but sends his best wishes.

Gambling advertising in sport has grown exponentially since the Gambling Act 2005, and gambling is now virtually synonymous with sport. With 1.8 million at-risk gamblers in the UK and approximately 500 suicides linked to gambling every year, this is something that should be of huge concern to every one of us.

Although all sport is affected by gambling, there are some frightening statistics on the relationship between gambling and football, the nation’s favourite game. Half of all premier league shirts are emblazoned with gambling-company logos, with 10 out of the 20 premier league clubs having signed deals worth a combined £69 million. Malta-based firm Betway is the biggest contributor, as a result of its £10 million deal with West Ham. Clubs stand to earn nearly £350 million from such deals in the coming season—that is an increase of more than 10% on the 2018-19 season.

Betting’s dominance is even more pronounced in the championship, where 17 out of the 24 club shirts display a betting logo, meaning that 27 of England’s top 44 clubs have secured highly profitable shirt-sponsorship deals with the gambling industry. It frightens me how much influence those logos will have on children, and on those who are already struggling with a gambling addiction.

I have spoken to problem gamblers who have freely told me that they watch football merely to seek out the names of new companies with which they can open gambling accounts. With high-profile names further promoting these deals, gambling will be even more normalised among young people. An example is Wayne Rooney, who has been wearing the No. 32 shirt at Derby County since January, as part of the club’s partnership with 32Red.

Although around 80% of gambling advertising budgets is now spent online, there is still a worryingly vast amount of opportunities during sports programmes on television for vulnerable people to be bombarded with gambling advertisements. In a recent study, Professor Jim Orford from the University of Birmingham noted that gambling logos are on screen for 70% of the time during “Match of the Day” programmes in the United Kingdom. Analysis of live sports on television found that gambling adverts are particularly prominent during football matches. During one game between Scottish teams Rangers and Celtic, gambling brands were visible on 920 occasions—that is equivalent to once every 10 seconds.

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I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I declare an interest, in so far as I am the MP for Celtic football club, which is in my constituency. I must confess that I am quite uncomfortable with both Rangers and Celtic having such sponsorship on their tops. In a debate in Westminster Hall earlier this week, the Minister was keen to tell us that attendance at football is going up. The reality is that the demographic tends to be young, low-income men, and the exposure to these betting firms is not good for public health. I commend the hon. Lady for raising this issue, and I hope she will keep going and ask these clubs to think again.

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I will come to that in my speech.

Shockingly, gambling advertising is also prevalent on the shirts in the video game “FIFA 2020”—the country’s best-selling video game, which is recommended for ages three and above and is a firm favourite of many young children. Those children may not be aware of the nature of the sponsors’ business, but they will be aware of the names, and in time, they will come to realise the type of company that those names represent.

An analogy of this is my assistant’s 11-year-old son, Thomas. He can easily identify the flags of the world from just playing FIFA games. For obvious reasons, we have not asked him to identify the logos of the gambling companies, but children are absorbing this information every time they play these games.

It certainly feels like the gambling industry is tightening its grip on the world of sport, and especially football. Nearly every club now has an official gambling partner, and aside from the shirt sponsorship deals, many clubs have betting outlets inside their stadiums, and many leagues are sponsored by the industry. As we have learned from the recent Bet365 debacle, until recently, some matches were only available through betting company apps.

In recent weeks, I have written to the big six Premier League clubs—Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal—to ask them to meet me and colleagues from the gambling-related harm all-party parliamentary group, to discuss the deals they have with gambling companies and their plans. Interestingly, Tottenham replied within 24 hours, readily agreeing to meet, while Manchester United contacted my office to say they had asked the Premier League to represent them at a meeting. I have not heard back from the other four. I understand the importance of an industry body having a presence at a meeting, but I see no purpose in their attending in place of the clubs to talk about the deals that the clubs are responsible for.

It really worries me that vulnerable people are being groomed by the gambling industry through advertising. The Advisory Board for Safer Gambling has said that, by not taking action to limit the exposure of young people to gambling advertising,

“we are in danger of inadvertently conducting an uncontrolled social experiment on today’s youth, the outcome of which is uncertain but could be significant.”

The sector urgently needs to adopt a more responsible approach on advertising, particularly during sports programmes, to protect children and the vulnerable. Paddy Power’s “joke” football shirt sponsorship deal last year with Huddersfield Town, which got huge publicity, is an indictment of the current state of gambling sponsorship proliferation.

So, what should be done? First, of course, the industry itself must take action. The gambling-related harm APPG welcomes the whistle-to-whistle television ban. But for the advertising ban to be truly effective, these companies should go even further, to include shirt and league sponsorship and digital advertising around the pitch. Otherwise, children and vulnerable adults will continue to be bombarded with gambling adverts. That is something we hope to discuss with the Premier League clubs we have written to, who I hope to eventually get to meet.

I must also mention Lewes football club, which is soon to launch a charter to get other clubs to commit to ending gambling advertising in football in the same way that it has. The charter urges clubs to: never accept any form of sponsorship or donation from the gambling industry; actively promote and raise awareness of the risk of gambling addiction; lobby fellow clubs, leagues and the Football Association to refuse to advertise or promote gambling in football; and to support people and families affected by gambling addiction. I have had a brief conversation with my local club, Swansea City, which has gambling sponsorship but understands the issues and is actively seeking a way to sign up to that charter when it is in a position to do so.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the broadcasters have been quite resistant to the clampdown on advertising. Television companies have an important role to play, and they must start acknowledging and improving how they deliver on their duty of care to viewers.

Given the limited progress on dealing with gambling advertising, it seems that the time has come for a blanket ban on gambling advertising in sport. That is what we had before the Gambling Act 2005, and I am going to usurp the Minister by saying that, yes, that was Labour Government legislation, but I was not a member of that Government. Had I been, I would have objected to that Act in the strongest terms.

In the upcoming gambling review, there is much that I will ask the Government to do. However, on this issue, I urge them, as a matter of urgency, to bring an end to the highly profitable, yet highly damaging relationships between sports clubs and the gambling industry. A good place to start would be to talk to organisations such as The Big Step, which work tirelessly to promote the message of no gambling advertising in sports.

Many of us are willing to work with the Government to get this right. We have the voices. We have the knowledge. I ask the Government to let us help them transform and neutralise the damaging consequences of problem gambling.

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I thank the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her tireless work in advocating for those who have suffered, or are at risk of suffering, gambling harms. I have no wish to make party political points on this issue, because I believe there is a wish on both sides of the Chamber for further action.

I would like to address the concerns that have been raised about gambling advertising and sponsorship of sport. The Gambling Act 2005 does indeed permit licensed operators to advertise in a socially responsible manner. Gambling is a permitted activity and a competitive market in this country, so it follows that businesses in the sector are able to market their product. The ability to advertise is a key advantage that licensed operators have over the black market. If we removed that advantage, we would undermine our ability to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, that it remains crime-free, and that children and vulnerable people are protected.

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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on that point. I appreciate the point he is making about gambling being a legal activity. One thing that struck me in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), which was so eloquent and detailed, was the sheer, overwhelming presence of gambling advertising, particularly when it comes to young and vulnerable people. My son, who is now at university, used to play FIFA20, or its predecessors. Many children do, and the fact that this advertising is accessible to children is deeply worrying. It is also worrying that it is so ubiquitous at sports grounds, where young people are bombarded by it. Will the Minister say something about the way in which the Government could scale back the level of advertising?

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I thank the hon. Member for his comments. He may be tempting me to pre-empt the conclusions of the gambling review that we will be conducting, and I will say more about it later. However, that review will be forthcoming—it was in the manifesto—and we will all have plenty of opportunity to look further into these issues. I cannot say too much more on the specifics at the moment, but I understand the point he is making.

It is true that operators are spending far more on advertising. Research has indicated that operators have increased their spend on advertising and marketing significantly in recent years. It would be easy to assume that that has led to increased rates of gambling or of problem gambling, but, according to the Gambling Commission, the percentage of those who gambled in the last year was 47%, which was 1% less than the percentage who gambled in 2016, and rates of problem gambling have remained relatively steady, at below 1% for the past 20 years. Before the hon. Member for Swansea East intervenes, as I know she will on that point, let me say that that is too high—that is one thing we agree on. We continue to keep a careful eye on the evidence, but more advertising does not seem to lead to more people gambling or more people suffering from gambling problems.

However, there are clearly legitimate concerns about problem gambling. I am pleased that the industry has listened to concerns, such as those raised by the hon. Lady, and has acted to some extent: it has extended existing restrictions on pre-watershed advertising to include live sport—the so-called “whistle-to-whistle ban” that she mentioned.

Protecting children and other vulnerable people from gambling harms is a priority for the Government. Gambling advertising, like alcohol, is already governed by strict rules to ensure that it is not targeted at children and is not of particular appeal to them. Where advertising breaches these rules, the commission can and does take action.

We know that millions of people gamble each year and that nearly 7% of the population bet on sport last year. Most of those people will suffer no harm, but gambling does carry risks. That is why, as part of the last gambling review that took place between 2016 and 2018, we secured a commitment from industry to fund a multimillion-pound safer gambling advertising campaign to highlight the risks and encourage safer gambling behaviours.

Of course, advertising is not the whole story; sponsorship is an important source of income for sporting teams and bodies, as the hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned. The Gambling Commission has been clear that operators must undertake their sponsorship activities in a socially responsible way. The FA has strict rules about the size and placement of operator logos and has taken action when those have been breached. Logos cannot feature on shirts worn by youth team players and on merchandising, including shirts in children’s sizes. Paddy Power’s stunt with Huddersfield led to the FA fining the club.

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Perhaps I can just enlighten the Minister: if a child is of a larger size and cannot get a shirt to fit in a child’s size, they end up having the logo on the front of it, so unless clubs make a special effort to have adult shirts without logos, which they are obviously not going to because it is not in their interests, children are able to wear shirts with logos on.

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The hon. Lady is making a fair point and, as I said, I am sure that all these things will be considered in the gambling review. The remit of the review has not yet been scoped, but she will have strong opinions on it—of that I have no doubt.

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The Minister is being extremely gracious to other Members in giving way. Perhaps the review might consider the family nature of watching sport in Britain because, in many cases, families are going to football or to other sport together, and the adults and children are wearing replica shirts together. They are watching the team together, so the presence of the gambling logo is ubiquitous—it is everywhere. I hope that he can address that issue in his review and take it very seriously, because it is easy for children to inadvertently be exposed to logos or attractive advertising, which can affect their perception of gambling very seriously.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. One of the great joys of sport is that it can be a family activity, and we want to minimise any dangers that can be the unintended consequences of participating or observing those activities.

The gambling industry has committed to developing and adopting a new code of conduct for sponsorship activities by the end of 2020. We and the Gambling Commission will be reviewing its efforts closely to ensure that they go far enough. As I have mentioned, we have committed to reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to make sure that it is fit for the digital age. We will announce further details in due course, but I assure the hon. Member for Swansea East that the Government and the Gambling Commission will not put our work to minimise harm on hold while the review takes place. We will always act on the evidence to prevent harm.

We have already delivered on our manifesto commitment to ban credit card gambling, and we have made it mandatory for operators to be part of GAMSTOP, the national online self-exclusion scheme.

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I thank the Minister for giving way, and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this vital debate and the important points that she made about gambling advertising, particularly to young people in video games such as FIFA. I am pleased that there are restrictions on gambling on credit cards, for example, but bets from student loans are a real concern for young people getting into problem gambling. Will the Minister say whether that will be looked into as part of the gambling review?

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The hon. Lady tempts me to pre-empt the scope of the review, but we will listen very carefully to what elements should be considered, and again, she makes an important point. I reiterate that, during the review and in the run-up to the review, we will not stop looking at all elements of gambling harm. Although the review is an important element of the debate, we need to continue the dialogue while it is happening, and I believe I will be coming to the APPG at some point in the not-too-distant future to continue that dialogue.

At the same time as strengthening protections, we are expanding the safety net for those who get into difficulty. The NHS long-term plan will see up to 14 new specialist gambling clinics across the country, three of which are now open. We are also working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and other Departments on a cross-Government addiction strategy, which will be published later this year. We are, of course, in very difficult times, and I assure all hon. Members that support is, and will continue to be, available for those who need it. The national gambling helpline remains open around the clock.

I am pleased to see the House’s commitment to the aim of reducing gambling harms, as well as its enthusiasm and advocacy for sport itself. I reassure hon. Members that strong protections are already in place, and the Government will continue to act on the evidence to make gambling safer.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.