On 16 January 2019, Question Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate posed the following Question in the House of Lords:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ban gambling advertising, particularly on television, to counter the negative effects on vulnerable and younger people, and others.
Lord Ashton of Hyde, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport replied as follows:
My Lords, there are strict controls to prevent gambling advertisements targeting children or exploiting vulnerable people. Our review set out measures to strengthen the protections, including tougher guidance and sanctions. We welcome initiatives by the industry and broadcasters, including the ban on advertising during live sport. A major survey of evidence found that advertising’s impact on problem gambling is likely to be rather small. We will look at all new evidence as it emerges.
Lord Kirkhope responded:
My Lords, when I was the Minister responsible for gambling in this country in the 1990s, after full research and consultation we turned our backs pretty well altogether on the idea of allowing television advertising of gambling. Sadly, in 2005 the Labour Government of that time totally liberalised this and we ended up with a great and continuing problem. We now have a total of £234 million of advertising revenue from gambling on television. While I welcome the Government’s position and the way in which they are taking initiatives, including its whistle-to-whistle voluntary agreement, I am still very concerned that any review has no real timescale. Will my noble friend the Minister therefore give us some indication of whether there will be a timescale to a further review? To use an imperfect analogy to the point made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, there is currently a viviparous situation which needs to be rectified with a clear timescale in view.
Lord Ashton summarised further recent developments to show that the Government takes the issue seriously:
My Lords, I now understand what the noble Lord meant by that last bit. We take the problem of advertising gambling seriously; that is why we made several changes in the review. There was a multi-million pound responsible gambling advertising campaign. The responsible gambling message now appears throughout all TV advertisements. There are tougher sanctions for breaches of advertising codes and new guidance on protecting vulnerable people. We will consider how those significant changes have bedded in. The Committee of Advertising Practice also published strengthened guidance with significant new provisions, including restricting calls such as “Bet now” during sporting events. As I said yesterday, though, evidence is important when making policy. That is why GambleAware has commissioned substantial research on the impact of marketing advertising on children and other vulnerable people. I assure my noble friend that that will be undertaken soon.
I agree with the noble Lord. The reason I did not mention it is that the Question referred specifically to TV advertising. There are features that can be used to hide and avoid gambling advertising online, such as different settings, and GambleAware has advice on how to do that. We are monitoring this and taking action through the Government’s digital charter, but the noble Lord is right: online gambling is the largest sector; 37% of gambling takes place online.
My Lords, while the concern about online and television advertising is quite understandable, can the Minister say whether, in his discussions with the bookmakers’ representatives, they look at high street advertising? If you go into a betting shop, as I do quite frequently, you see lurid adverts for how much money you can get for a small amount. If you are waiting for a bus, you have time to read that. Television advertising is fleeting, but the constant picture of a miracle solution to people’s economic problems is a great temptation. As this Question deals with vulnerable people, we should bear that in mind.
I agree with the noble Lord. Part of the gambling licensing conditions that betting organisations have to abide by are that they should act responsibly and specifically not target young and vulnerable people. It is up to the Gambling Commission to make sure they abide by their licensing conditions.
My Lords, when the Minister looks at the effect of gambling on young people, will he take into account the survey conducted by ParentZone yesterday about a new phenomenon called skin gambling? It said: “Our survey confirmed it is wide-spread, with 10% of children across the UK aged 13-18 revealing they have gambled skins in some form. This percentage amounts to approximately 448,744 children”. This is surely one of the new phenomena now appearing in social media and elsewhere targeted at young people, and the Government need always to be ahead of the game in these kinds of circumstances.
The Government are aware of that, and when in-game items such as skins can be used to place a bet or gamble, and be converted into cash, it is considered gambling and requires a licence. The Gambling Commission has taken action and prosecuted unlicensed gambling of in-game items known as skins. We are seeking to work with the video games industry to raise awareness of that and explore solutions, but I take the noble Lord’s point. We are aware of gambling in games and it is a new issue of which we are taking account.
My Lords, while I am reassured by what my noble friend said about measuring the effects of gambling advertising in sport in particular, especially with football, may I ask him to think about the total effect of the amount of advertising that can now occur, both at a football match and affecting those watching it on television? It is not only the sponsorship of the kit—and maybe the replica kit that follows from it—but the advertising boards that go around the ground. On those channels that have advertising breaks, you get a further bombardment of the joys of gambling.
My Lords, we are aware of that. That is why we are very pleased that the whistle-to-whistle ban stops such advertisements being shown during half-time, for example. Just under half the advertising will now disappear during live sporting events. That is particularly significant because it will stop the in-play betting which is such a prominent feature of gambling on live sporting events.
In our view, with this final comment, the Noble Lord will have exceeded his brief, but at least it brought this short debate to an earlier end than might otherwise have been the case.