“High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age”
DCMS White Paper, April 2023
Gambling Advertising and the White Paper
The Secretary of State’s introduction to the white paper makes a number of bold claims, amongst them being: “we will tackle aggressive advertising”. This article takes a look at the proposals in the white paper relating to gambling advertising generally (aggressive or otherwise), and questions the extent to which it is tackled at all.
Chapter 2: Marketing and advertising
The white paper is structured around what it calls “six main themes”, to each of which it devotes a chapter. Chapter 2 is headed “Marketing and Advertising”. It is surprising, in light of the claims made by the Secretary of State, that the paper proposes so little to address what on any view are pressing and immediate concerns. On critical analysis, what Chapter 2 gives us amounts to little more than rehearsals of what is already happening, promises to consult, statements of intent to do further research, and calls on operators and others to take voluntary action (rather than requirements that they do so). No firm proposals at all.
Things already happening or announced:
- “We welcome the Betting and Gaming Council’s initiatives to improve standards and improve compliance with the Commission’s rules.”
- “We welcome industry’s expansion of its commitment to safer gambling messaging to constitute 20% of all advertising across both online and broadcast channels.”
- “We welcome steps by some online operators to empower individuals to ‘opt-out’ of gambling advertising.”
- “The Commission will continue to hold licensees accountable for the activity of their marketing affiliates.”
- “The Commission will continue to closely monitor practices around online VIP schemes to make sure they are not used to exploit at-risk gamblers.”
- “The Premier League has announced that it will remove gambling sponsors from the fronts of players’ shirts.”
Consultations, reviews and ‘further work to be done’:
- “We will undertake a review of incentives such as free bets and bonuses to ensure that they are constructed and targeting in a socially responsible manner. The consultation will also consider measures such as a cap on re-wagering requirements.”
- “We will work together with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Gambling Commission… to develop a new, evidence-based model for independently developed safer gambling messages.”
- “The Commission will also take forward work to strengthen consent for direct marketing for online gambling.”
- The Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority are taking a joint approach to tackling the issue of ‘content marketing’ that may inappropriately appeal to children.”
Calls on operators and others:
- “We are calling on operators to take existing commitments in the industry code further, and use the full potential of available advertising technology to target all online advertising away from children and vulnerable people and those showing indicators of harm.”
- We expect all sports to take a responsible approach to gambling sponsorship… we believe sports government bodies are best placed to decide what approach and measures are appropriate to protect their fans.”
I can find nothing else in Chapter 2 of the white paper by way of commitment to taking action. The abandonment of anything worthy the name ‘action’ has been greeted with expressions of disappointment, dismay and even anger. In a House of Lords debate, Baroness Bakewell said –
“I was extremely disappointed to see that gambling advertising continues unabated; it is virtually impossible to avoid. TV advert breaks all include the dubious benefits and enjoyment of gambling. Similarly, radio stations are peppered with adverts for the large sums of money that can be claimed for the price of a £2 phone call.”
And Lord Foster said –
“There is clear research showing that advertising leads to people starting to gamble, leads existing gamblers to gamble more and leads those who have stopped to start again. Why would the industry spent £1.5 billion a year on marketing if it was not to boost its profits? Other countries are taking action to ban or restrict gambling advertising. The majority of the British public want us to do the same. Why is more not being proposed in this country?”
A Guardian headline was more stark –
“Gambling addicts will die because of delay to reforms.”
The recurring theme of criticism is the delay inherent in consultation. Lord Foster again –
“My biggest concern is the delay in implementation. Can the Minister confirm that there are to be at least 12 separate consultations requiring the Gambling Commission to have no fewer than 30 workstreams? How long must we wait for the outcome of all this work?”
And it is indeed puzzling why so many consultations are to be launched. The review’s call for evidence ran from December 2020 to March 2021. Some 16,000 submissions were received. According to the DCMS, “Ministers and officials …supplemented this with hundreds of meetings with a wide range of stakeholders.” Regard was had to several “key publications”, including The House of Lords’ “Select Committee Report on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling industry”; Public Health England’s “Gambling-related Harms Evidence Review”; and The independent “Review of the Regulation of Betindex Ltd.”. What more can the government hope to glean from further consultation? Or is the real hope that the whole issue will be shunted down the line, past a General Election, and into the reluctant hands of a new administration?
The Secretary of State promised “a comprehensive package of new measures which will make gambling laws fit for the digital age”. Whether that ambition is realised remains to be seen; but if it is, it will not be because ‘aggressive gambling advertising’ has been effectively tackled.
“I shall do such things – what they are, yet I know not – but they shall be the terrors of the earth!”
I wonder if the DCMS has any better idea of what it is actually going to do, rather than talk about doing.
Gerald Gouriet KC
12 May 2023
The full text of the White Paper can be found here
Further reading: The Guardian worldwide ban on gambling advertising: link