RGA agrees a “whistle-to-whistle” TV sports betting advertising ban … or does it?

The gambling advertising debate might have taken a further significant move forward today, dependent on whether BBC Sport’s headline article this morning entitled “Gambling firms agree ‘whistle-to-whistle’ television sport advertising ban” (that can be downloaded below) has correctly reported that members of the Remote Gambling Association (“RGA”) have agreed to ensure that no TV advertisements by betting operators for any sport (with the exception of horse-racing) will be broadcast in the UK for a defined period before and after a game is broadcast.

As we have previously reported, a ban of this type was proposed by the Labour Party in September as part of what would be a radical overhaul of gambling regulation and advertising in the event that it was to come into government.

This morning’s BBC report stated that: “final ratification is needed from the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) before the ban comes into force”. However, it has since been reported by iGaming Business that no such agreement has in fact been reached, quoting:

  • RGA CEO, Clive Hawkswood, as saying: “The BBC have got it wrong. There is no agreement on any proposals yet let alone an announcement” and
  • the RGA’s regulatory affairs manager, Stella Dalton as saying: “The Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising is reviewed annually, and several options are currently being considered as the basis for possible enhancements in 2019. However, nothing has yet been finalised.”

According to the iGaming Business report (that can also be downloaded below): “It is understood that measures that have been discussed include a total ban on pre-watershed advertising, banning ads promoting in-play odds and the restriction of gambling ads to one slot per commercial break. The talks come in the wake of reports that the government is considering the imposition of restrictions on betting advertising”.

Responding to the BBC report earlier today, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright MP, was quoted as describing reports of a “whistle to whistle” ban as a “welcome move” adding:

Gambling firms banning advertising on TV during live sport is a welcome move and I am pleased that the sector is stepping up and responding to public concerns. It is vital children and vulnerable people are protected from the threat of gambling related harm. Companies must be socially responsible.

Tom Watson MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was quoted as saying that he was “delighted” by the news because the number of adverts during live sports had “clearly reached crisis levels”, adding:

There was clear public support for these restrictions and I’m glad that the Remote Gambling Association has taken its responsibilities seriously and listened.

Sarah Hanratty, chief executive of the Senet Group, was quoted as saying:

It has been clear for some time now that the volume and density of advertising and sponsorship messaging from gambling companies around live sport has become unsustainable. This is a welcome move from the leading industry operators who are taking the initiative to respond to public concern.

However, picking up on the recent revelation that gambling operators spend £1.2 billion marketing online, five times more than on television ads, Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, had sounded a note of caution, saying:

We have been saying for a long time now that gambling is being increasingly normalised for children. They are growing up in a very different world than their parents, one where technology and the internet are ever present. So while we welcome this move by betting companies, it is important to pay attention to analysis that shows the marketing spend online is five times the amount spent on television. The fact that it is reported that one in eight 11 to 16 year olds are following gambling companies on social media is very concerning.

We await further clarification!


1.  In an article for The Times entitled “The inconvenient truth about gambling adverts”, published on 10 December 2018, Stephen Van Rooyen (Chief Executive of Sky, UK & Ireland) has reinforced Marc Etches’ above comments, saying that:

  • “over 80 per cent of the gambling industry’s advertising is in the largely unregulated online world ….. and the amount of cash spent promoting gambling on social media has more than tripled over the past three years”,
  • “if the RGA and gambling companies are serious about protecting vulnerable gamblers, then they should start by looking at where they spend the most money, what has the least level of regulation and where there is most evidence of harm: the online world”,
  • “if the RGA plan is implemented, then spend would simply shift even further online, with smartphones, tablets and computers targeted with even greater precision. This doesn’t feel like a good outcome for anyone except gambling firms and online tech platforms”, and
  • “politicians need to look at this in a more meaningful way and ensure that the same rules for advertising in the offline world apply online”.

2.  On 13 December 2018, it was announced by the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling that a voluntary ban on pre-9pm “whistle to whistle” television sports betting advertising (starting 5 minutes before the event begins and ending 5 minutes after it finishes) will take effect in the summer of 2019. This voluntary ban (to be embodied in a revised Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising) will also (a) extend to betting advertisements around highlights shows and re-runs and (b) include live streaming of sports events to mobile and other devices, but it will not extend to advertisements for horse and greyhound racing.