Further adverse media publicity on promotion of gambling to children and young persons

The Sunday Times has published an article today entitled “Odds for the boys: top clubs plug gambling on junior players’ shirts”in which it:

  • “reveals how young players and junior fan clubs of some Premier League sides are helping to promote the betting industry”,
  • claims that “footballers as young as 15 are being used to promote betting sites, contrary to FA and advertising rules”, with particular criticism being levelled against West Ham United, Newcastle United and Stoke City for showing photographs of young players wearing shirts sponsored by gambling operators (Betway, Fun88 and bet365 respectively) and
  • alleges that some Premier League clubs also “promote betting sites to junior supporters, including ones on which children can play cartoon casino games without age verification”, with particular criticism being levelled against Swansea City, Newcastle United and Bournemouth.

This final allegation follows previous adverse media publicity originating with a headline article in the Sunday Times on 8 October 2017 entitled “Cartoons lure kids to online gambling” that culminated in the Gambling Commission, the Committee of Advertising Practice, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Remote Gambling Association joining forces to send a letter to holders of operating licences granted by the Gambling Commission, advising them to amend or remove immediately any advertisements on their websites or in third party media that are likely to appeal particularly to people aged 17 or younger and are generally available to view. You can read more about this here and in David Clifton’s “What to do if you received that letter ….” article for SBC News.

It is quite conceivable that this latest adverse publicity may lead to increased calls for greater restrictions to be placed on football shirt sponsorship by gambling operators. In this respect:

  • The Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Gambling presently states: “The advertising of adult-only gambling products or product suppliers should never be targeted at children. This applies equally to sponsorship and this Industry Code continues to require that gambling operators do not allow their logos or other promotional material to appear on any commercial merchandising which is designed for use by children. A clear example of this would be the use of logos on children’s sports’ shirts. Children’s shirts and other merchandise will be defined as those that do not attract VAT.”
  • The Football Association (“FA”) Rules state that: “….. in the case of a team comprising players all under the age of 18 years on 31 August in the current season, the appearance on or incorporation in any item of clothing of any reference whatsoever to a product, service or other activity which is considered by The Association as detrimental to the welfare, health or general interest of young persons, or is otherwise considered inappropriate, having regard to the age of the players, is prohibited. It is the view of The Association that examples of such products, services or related activities would include, but are not limited to, age restricted products, services and related activities such as alcohol and gambling”.
  • In September last year, Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson announced that a future Labour Government would ban football clubs from signing shirt sponsorship deals with gambling companies. He was quoted in the Guardian as saying that “Football has to play its part in tackling Britain’s hidden epidemic of gambling addiction. Shirt sponsorship sends out a message that football clubs don’t take problem gambling among their own fans seriously enough. It puts gambling brands in front of fans of all ages, not just at matches but on broadcasts and highlights packages on both commercial television and the BBC.”
  • In October last year, DCMS announced a range of proposals to strengthen protections around gambling, including proposals relating to gambling advertising. Making the announcement, Gambling Minister Tracey Crouch said: “It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm”. 
  • In November last year, GambleAware Chief Executive Marc Etches said: “The social environment young people are growing up in today, surrounded by gambling advertisements online and in sports venues is very concerning. Public opinion about the amount of gambling-related advertising young people are exposed to is reaching a tipping point. Therefore, it is in the interests of professional sport generally, and football in particular, to be concerned about the future impact on young people, growing up in a society where gambling is increasingly being normalised”.

Comment on this latest development is awaited from the Gambling Commission and the Football Association.

NOTE: On 10 November 2017, the House of Commons Library published a briefing paper (that can be downloaded here) that summarises the current position relating to gambling advertising in Great Britain.