UK Government U-Turns on Gambling Advertising Ban

Published September 12, 2023 by Jeff O

UK Government U-Turns on Gambling Advertising Ban

In a surprise move, the UK government has reversed its initial initiative to ban gambling advertising. Through its gambling industry minister, the government has defended its stance, citing a lack of proper research and evidence on the matter.

The UK government has reversed its stance on implementing a policy ban on gambling advertisements. In a surprising turn of events, the Ministry of Sport, Gambling, and Civil Society, via Minister Stuart Andrew, revealed little evidence to prove a correlation between gambling harm and exposure to gambling advertising.

Under Secretary Andrew addressed the Culture, Media, and Sport Committee alongside senior officials from the UK Gambling Commission and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) on gambling regulation. The officials touched on several aspects of UK gambling regulations concerning current initiatives, a major one being the UK Gambling White Paper, which was discussed across the board.

Better Research Needed for Evidence of Gambling Advertising Harm

The UK is slated to adopt the Gambling Act review White Paper and consultations on how best to incorporate its recommendations into gambling regulations are underway. During the meeting, Andrew indicated it would be unfair to single out gambling advertising as a sole cause for harm, as other factors must be considered. For instance, he pointed out that there have been a series of changes in the industry over the past years, which may have more directly contributed to harm. He told the Committee:

I think what we’re trying to do here is bring about a balanced and proportionate approach, which addresses many of the changes that have happened in the gambling scene over the last 20 years, but also seeks to bring about a uniform approach amongst operators to have a process in place to identify those perhaps, who are entering the risk of gambling harm.

Among the topics in the meeting were statistics on gambling-related deaths (specifically suicides) and how difficult it was to meet up with bereaved families on the matter. To this, the minister called for more research before making conclusive decisions. Andrew added:

I don’t think we as a government have actual definitive information that would say that X amount of suicides are a result of gambling harm. In some cases, that will have been a cause, but there will potentially be other reasons as well.

He emphasized the need for more to be done in the way of research, which he termed as a vital piece of work. He also reported that the government had already been taking an evidence-led approach on the subject. Minister Andrew explained:

We have very much gone on the evidence [and] there’s little evidence that exposure to advertising alone causes people to enter into gambling harm. Once we have the research, if there’s more evidence that proves advertising is causing harm, then we will look at that.

BGC Voices Support for the Government’s Decision

Andrew’s revelation was supported by the Betting and Gaming Council CEO, Michael Dugher, who reported that the White Paper was much welcomed by the industry. Committee member John Nicholson was curious to hear Dugher’s opinion on whether a complete ban on advertising on sports grounds should be imposed. So, on his part, Mike Dugher said:

If the objective is to reduce harm, to tackle problem gambling, it would be a sensible thing to do if there was any evidence of a link between advertising and sports sponsorship and problem gambling. And the government, having reviewed all of the evidence, found no evidence.

In response, Nicholson pointed out that since the Premier League had agreed to stop football kit sponsorships, it was, in a way, admitting that gambling advertising did carry some harm. Dugher countered by saying that the Premier League intended to simply recognize the public concern about the scale of branding around football and responded to it. From his perspective, it wasn’t necessarily related to any harm caused by the activity.

Government Under Fire for Its About Face

Gambling harm has been a hot topic in the UK for quite some time. Consequently, several campaigns have been launched to address gambling-related problems, a major one being a call to limit or ban gambling advertising in the country.

Following the minister’s remarks at the session, gambling harm advocates have condemned the government’s backtracking. They argue that gambling advertising encourages the consumption of gambling services and, hence, can increase harm to players.

The evidence is clear that gambling advertising drives consumption, which increases harm. This is well known internationally, and as a result, many European countries have taken action to protect their communities with stringent advertising curbs. Our children, young people, and those experiencing harm or in recovery continue to be exposed to ubiquitous gambling advertising, and the government have chosen to expose them to harm.

Time to Revisit the Gambling Ads vs. Harm Conversation

The decision to backpedal on its earlier decision has shocked most who had anticipated a continual execution of the proposed gambling ban. It is especially surprising, seeing as some stakeholders had already started cutting back on or outright stopped advertising most forms of gambling.

UK’s anti-gambling-ads influence has even reached state actors across the pond in Canada, where a ban on featuring athletes and some celebrities in gambling ads will come into effect from the end of February 2024. As the UK government takes these steps to ensure comprehensive research and evidence, it has made it clear that it remains open to revisiting its stance should future proof necessitate a different course of action.

Yes! I want to know about exclusive bonuses, promotions, and news.