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Gambling: Children and Young People

Volume 816: debated on Monday 6 December 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the research by Dr Raffaello Rossi and Professor Agnes Nairn What are the odds? The appeal of gambling adverts to children and young persons on Twitter, published in October.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I draw attention to my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform.

My Lords, this research is a useful contribution to the evidence base and will be considered carefully in our ongoing review of the Gambling Act, which is taking a close look at the impacts of advertising wherever it appears. Gambling adverts must already not be targeted at children or appeal particularly to them. The committees for advertising practice will soon publish more on their plans to tighten the rules in this area.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will know that the research indicates how easily children can be influenced by gambling advertisements even when they are not targeted at children; indeed, under-age gambling is illegal, yet a third do it and over 60,000 are now classed as problem gamblers. Does the Minister agree that, in developing new gambling legislation, we should do what we already do for alcohol, drugs and smoking, and adopt a public health approach, prioritising prevention of harm in the first place?

The noble Lord is right that a public health approach involves prevention as well as treatment. There is a wide range of provisions in the advertising codes designed to protect children, as well as vulnerable adults, from harm. The Committee of Advertising Practice has consulted on further strengthening the rules on appealing to children. We expect an announcement by the end of the year.

This is a very important issue. Does the Minister agree that the Lords committee that looked at the reform of gambling struck the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and allowing people to gamble if they wish to do so?

Certainly, I had the pleasure of serving on that committee before I joined Her Majesty’s Government. I thank noble Lords who also served on that committee. That work and much else, including the research that we are discussing today, will be taken into account as part of our review of the Gambling Act.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform. As the noble Lord, Lord Foster, has already mentioned, 60,000-plus young people are diagnosed as suffering from gambling-related harm in this country. What consideration have Her Majesty’s Government given to ensuring, perhaps under the online harms Bill, that social media companies will provide an opt-in age-verification tool so that we can provide additional protections for our young people to protect them from these adverts?

I assure the right reverend Prelate that the Gambling Act review is taking a close look at the rules regarding advertising on social media. We want full use to be made of all the scope that technology offers when it comes to targeting adverts appropriately.

My Lords, as chairman of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme board, I ask my noble friend: will he look carefully at our proposals for an online verification proof of age scheme to ensure that underage children are not accessing gambling on the internet?

As I have said, there are already strict rules on the targeting of adverts relating to children but, as part of the Gambling Act review, we will certainly look at the evidence that my noble friend cites.

My Lords, it is of course right to shield children from adverts promoting gambling but, as we have heard in this House on a number of occasions, that requires the age stated by the individual for access to be accurate in the first place. As social media companies themselves acknowledge that the systems and safeguards may not work as well as they should, can the Minister confirm that the minimum standards required will be incorporated into the upcoming online harms Bill? Will Ofcom be responsible for ensuring that these standards will protect children?

My Lords, I am conscious that the online safety Bill is in pre-legislative scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, and a Joint Committee of both Houses will be looking at this important area, as will the Gambling Act review.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point for me to call him.

My Lords, the University of Bristol research shows that gambling adverts are much more attractive to the 16-to-24 age group than to adults, so will the Government expand the definition of “young persons” in the advertising codes from 16 to 17 to 16 to 24?

My Lords, the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising requires paid-for social media adverts to be targeted only at people aged 25 and above and YouTube content produced by an operator’s own YouTube channels must be restricted to accounts verified as being 18 and above. However, all this will be looked at as part of the Gambling Act review.

My Lords, Twitter says it would never knowingly market to minors, yet our experience and the report make it clear that that just does not work. Some people want to see these adverts, but I come back to the question of opt-ins and ask the Minister if he will commit to an opt-in protocol for advertising for gambling.

My noble friend tempts me to pre-empt the work of the Gambling Act review, which is ongoing. It is certainly looking at issues such as that.

My Lords, would the Minister consider advising football clubs not to have betting companies on their shirts but instead to follow the good example of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, which for six years had Save the Children on its shirts and now has the motor neurone disease charity MND Scotland, funded by Dell Technologies? Is that not the way forward?

We are looking broadly at the issues of advertising and marketing, including in relation to sports clubs, and have called for evidence on these as part of the review.

My Lords, as a former Minister for Gambling I have always been very concerned about not only the effects on children of the advertising that we see now on social media but the whole effect of the incredible rise in advertising on our normal media—that is, on television and radio. Can we please have a comment from the Government as to whether we think this has gone too far, as I do, and whether they have any ideas for the future as to how we might restrain those advertisers?

Operators must advertise responsibly, and we are committed to tackling aggressive practices. We have called for evidence on advertising and sponsorship as part of our review. The Public Health England evidence review, which we discussed some weeks ago, did not find evidence that exposure to advertising and marketing was a risk factor for harmful gambling, but we continue to keep this issue under review as we review the Gambling Act.