Lords Discontent Proves UK Advertising Debate Far From Over

April 26, 2024
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Demands from the UK parliament’s upper chamber to limit or even ban gambling ads shows pressure on marketing will continue well beyond the outcome of the country’s impending general election.
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Demands from the UK parliament’s upper chamber to limit or even ban gambling ads shows pressure on marketing will continue well beyond the outcome of the country’s impending general election.

Members of the House of Lords convened on Thursday (April 25) to universally call for more action by the government to restrict gambling ads.

Peers decried the “deluge” of gambling ads in the UK and in particular argued there were likely to be strong links between ads and problem gambling, as well as gambling by young people.

“Companies wouldn’t spend so much if it didn’t work,” said Lord Bath, pointing to a reported €1.5bn spent on gambling marketing in 2017, according to data from Regulus Partners.

Gambling ads “lead to more gambling and greater risk of harm, yet very little action is being proposed [by the government],” he said.

Lord Bath leads the Peers for Gambling Reform group, which has long pushed for tough measures to be imposed on the industry.

Many of the group's proposed measures were addressed in some form by the government’s Gambling Act review published last year.

However, although measures such as online stakes, financial risk checks and a responsible gambling levy are in the process of being brought in as a consequence of the white paper, relatively little is being done to restrict gambling marketing.

The Premier League has agreed a voluntary ban on shirt-front gambling sponsorships from the end of the 2025/2026 season, but critics point out that ads on pitch side hoardings and during games on social media will continue to expose millions to gambling ads during sport.

A ban on cross-selling is also set to be introduced, along with a review of bonus offers, and the government has also committed to a gambling education campaign.

But failure to heed the calls of campaigners for tougher measures on advertising all but ensured that lobbying would continue, and evidence from the Lords suggests the result of this year’s UK general election will have no impact on easing that pressure.

Peers representing a range of political parties, as well as so-called crossbench peers, who are not affiliated with any party, took the opportunity to call on the government to crack down.

“There needs to be a stadium and shirt ban” on gambling ads, said Baroness Armstrong, of the Labour Party. She also called for a ban on all pre-watershed gambling ads.

Gambling advertising has proved to be a similarly controversial issue globally and examples of prohibitions internationally are now being used to pressure the government in the UK.

In his opening statement, Lord Bath attempted to bat away the frequent defence of gambling ads that argue there is no proven causal link between advertising and gambling harm.

He noted that the UK had published 496 research papers about gambling marketing, which was more than the combined number of similar papers produced in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

“On their evidence, they’ve chosen almost full bans on gambling advertising and sponsorship,” he said. “Unlike us, other countries don’t seem to struggle.”

The House of Lords has very limited policymaking power in the UK and its main role is to scrutinise bills introduced by the House of Commons, but particularly when it comes to gambling, its efforts have played a key role in the campaign that eventually led to the white paper.

For now, however, the government appears unmoved. 

Responding for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Lord Parkinson pointed to the small number of advertising-focused measures in the white paper and said that some funding from the upcoming 1 percent responsible gambling levy would be used to commission independent research into gambling adverts.

“If new evidence suggests we need to go further, we will do so,” he said.

The minister also pointed to a new cross-sport gambling sponsorship code of conduct agreed by major sporting bodies in the UK, which has yet to be publicly released.

In its response to an inquiry on gambling policy by the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, released last week, the DCMS said: "The cross-sport gambling sponsorship code of conduct will guarantee a robust minimum standard on gambling sponsorship across all sports, ensuring that when gambling sponsorship does appear, it is done so in a socially responsible way."

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