Gambling ad rules could be tightened after Government launches review

Gambling brands could be subject to a raft of new restrictions on the content and scheduling of their advertising after the Government launched a four-pronged review of advertising codes and their enforcement.

Ladbrokes-Ad-2013.460
Gambling brands such as Ladbrokes could be subject to a raft of new restrictions on content and scheduling after Government launches review.

To avoid defeat in a debate on its Gambling Bill in The House of Lords last night (4 March) following a Labour amendment, Conservative peer and the Government’s spokesman in the upper house Lord Gardiner of Kimble announced ministers had instructed the Advertising Standards Authority to report by autumn 2014 whether it could do more to ensure existing rules are enforced “proportionately and consistently”.

It will also ask the Committee of Advertising Practice, which writes the rules the ASA enforces, to see whether existing restrictions are robust enough once the ad watchdog has seen a report by the Responsible Gambling Trust examining the link between advertising and problem gambling, due later this month.

Elsewhere, trade body the Remote Gambling Association is to review its voluntary standards code, the “Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Gambling”, to see if the broadcast of gambling ads should be restricted to after the 9pm watershed and whether spots should carry more “educational messaging” on the potential pitfalls of gambling.

Finally, the Gambling Commission will investigate whether free bets and bonus offers are “marketed in a fair and open way” by the industry.

The measures were announced after Labour peer Baroness Jones of Whitchurch tabled an amendment during a reading of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Bill demanding a review of current rules governing on and offline advertising by gambling brands in particular whether there are sufficient controls to protect children from excessive exposure before 9pm.

Baroness Jones said during a debate on the Bill that the volume of sport on TV and the number of betting options available could be damaging. 

“It [gambling] is instant, compulsive and has become more complex. It is no longer enough to bet on the outcome of a game, you are now encouraged to bet on the first no-ball, the first corner, the first goal scorer and so on. This has been fuelled by the growth of spread betting with high stakes and winnings, but also potentially high losses.

“As we have already identified, these days, viewers of televised sporting events are bombarded with betting adverts in the commercial breaks, with all kinds of tempting, and often misleading, offers for correctly predicting the run of play and the outcome. They capitalise on viewers’ excitement and emotion in the moment.”

Labour, which withdrew its amendment following announcement of the reviews, has been putting pressure on the Government to act after figures published by Ofcom in November found the number of gambling advertisements aired annually had increased six-fold to 1.39 million since deregulation of the industry in 2007.

Critics have pointed out it was Labour that introduced the 2005 Gambling Act, which allowed the advertising of sports betting, online casinos and poker for the first time.

Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs, says the four-strand review will provide ”robust evidence-based research” into the extent of children’s exposure to gambling ads. 

“Gambling is a hot issue right now and how it is advertised is central to the debate, so it is good that common sense has been injected into what is a very controversial issue. Lord Clement-Jones stated that ‘firmly rooted evidence’ is a requirement of the review, to avoid what he describes as ’moral panic’ concerning the advertising of gambling to adult. It is encouraging that this seems to be the prevailing view.”

The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill was introduced by Culture Minister Maria Miller last year and requires all gambling brands to hold a UK operating licence from the Gambling Commission in order to advertise in the UK.

MPs cleared the Bill last year. It will have a third reading on 18 March before further amendments are considered.  

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