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Will restrictions on advertising really reduce the growth of the gambling industry?




Itís indisputable that the gambling industry is getting bigger and bigger. Since the relaxation of limits from the Gaming Act, 2005 the market is now worth around £14bn which is a colossal growth rate over a decade from circa £7bn. The biggest driver for this has undoubtedly been the ready availability of the internet and the ability to play online. Whether itís an online casino, sportsbook or bingo, the freedom that online betting offered makes it a far more interesting prospect for most gamblers. One of the major tenets of the Gaming Act was a relaxation of television advertising  that allowed bookmakers and casinos to advertise more freely. In recent weeks this decision has been called into question, with attempts to regulate and restrict exactly what adverts can display. The new laws, that came into force on April 2nd, 2018, were as follows:

  • Restrict ads that create an inappropriate sense of urgency like those including íBet Now!í offers during live events
  • Curb trivialisation of gambling (e.g. encouraging repetitive play)
  • Prevent approaches that give an irresponsible perception of the risk or control (e.g. íRisk Free Deposit Bonusí)
  • Provide greater detail on gambling behaviour problems and associated behaviours that should not be portrayed, even indirectly
  • Prevent undue emphasis on money-motives for gambling, and
  • Provide more detail on vulnerable groups, such as problem gamblers, that marketers need to work to protect. (from the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA))

As you can tell from a quick analysis of the above points, the regulations arenít intended to curtail the gambling industry specifically, only to address the issue of problem gambling by altering what content the adverts can display. These restrictions should, in theory, not have too dire an effect on the growth of the gambling industry as the adverts are still being displayed though now merely with altered content. The curious thing is that evidence reviewed in developing these guidelines suggests that advertising doesnít play a casual or even significant role in problem gambling. The elements of these adverts that were called into question was the appeal to individual susceptibilities, such as financial worries or self-esteem problems, which could have a negative effect and encourage gambling irresponsibly as a means to alleviate these concerns. Itís clear from the wording, and the evidence reviewed, that this shouldnít have a negative effect on the industry as a whole, only on a negligible cross-section of problem gamblers who are spurred on by particular phrases.

While the current limitations are all fairly reasonable, a recent campaign by the Church of England, led by the Rev. Alan Smith has begun to demand further restrictions. Itís their belief that while gambling adverts cannot be shown on television before the watershed (9pm), the exception that allows them during sports matches has a negative impact on society as a whole. Additionally, comments from Lord Chadlington, a Tory peer who conducted a survey via Populus, showed that 65% of 14-18 year olds thought that there was too much gambling avertising on television, have been calling for a ban on all gambling advertising during sporting events as well as forbidding gambling companies from sponsoring any teams.

Unlike ASA  limitations, these proposed actions would be likely to have a far more pronounced effect on gambling companies and, likely, on sports in general. In recent years, advertising has been switching to a primarily digital field with a steep decline in television  advertising as shown by ITVís 5% fall this year, the biggest dip since 2009. In this changing digital landscape one of the few industries which is still routinely advertising on television is, perhaps ironically, gambling. As advertising during sports matches is an understandable goal for gambling companies, itís been identified by the Victoria Derbyshire Progam that around 95% of televised  matches in the UK feature gambling adverts with various levels of intensity. While the industry has claimed the adverts have limited impact on gambling rates, itís clear from the sheer number of adverts, as well as the large number of teams sponsored by gambling organisations, that this is an area that appears profitable.

In Australia, they recently introduced a ban on gambling adverts five minutes before, after and consistently during sporting events. While this only came into effect this April, seeing what the results are for betting shops in Australia ought to be interesting as a reflection of the likely outcome were the UK to implement a similar ban. In contrast to Lord Chadlington and Rev. Alan Smith, a few other leading voices have opined that the current state of affairs is perfectly reasonable. Ian Twinn, the former Director, Public Affairs for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), believes that the current gambling advertising rules are strict and the only way to prevent vulnerable people seeing the adverts would be a complete ban that would, likely, have a negative affect on media content, most pressingly sport.

Whether or not the current standards get tighter, and what effect a daytime ban would have on the gambling industry (and the sports industry for that matter) remains to be seen, but with Australia as a case study we should have an answer soon enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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