After the first national lockdown was implemented in the UK last year, it was reported that overall levels of gambling were declining, coinciding with the mass cancellation of live sports. However, at the same time there was a growth in activity among frequent gamblers and an overall shift from betting shops to the online market.
In response, at the end of April 2020 the Betting and Gambling Council, which represents 90% of the UK’s betting and gaming industry, announced it was voluntarily putting in place a temporary ad ban during lockdown in a bid to protect its most vulnerable customers. This applied to TV and radio ads regarding online casinos, slots and bingo, but didn’t extend to sports betting advertising.
This is not the first time the industry has stepped in to regulate itself, and for many campaigners and anti-gambling bodies, the issue of unhealthy gambling behaviour runs far deeper than Covid. A study last year found that 300,000 people in Britain are considered ‘problem gamblers’, though according to a Gamble Aware/YouGov survey, it could be as many as 1.2 million people.
Another 2020 study found that over half of children in England and Scotland between the ages of 11-16 have gambled, despite tighter rules brought in by CAP (the Committees of Advertising Practice) in 2019, which prohibit gambling companies from targeting under-18s in ads. Those restrictions included a ban on the use of some animated characters as well as ads starring sports stars and celebrities who appear under the age of 25.
With gambling companies under such scrutiny, questions have been raised as to whether their ads should be banned altogether. Their presence in football matches have come into question in particular, with a recent Channel 4 documentary, Football’s Gambling Addiction, revealing that there are on average 716 ‘exposures’ lasting two seconds or more per match analysed – or 6.3 exposures per minute.
Mark Lloyd, a strategist at sports-focused creative agency Dark Horses, welcomes the industry’s tougher stance from within, however he is somewhat sceptical of the impetus, believing it shows an awareness that there is a problem with the industry. “Self-imposed regulation is really an admittance that things aren’t quite right. And really, we have to be aware of the motivations of these regulations is to keep any objective regulator – i.e. the government – from coming in and doing it for them. This maintains a lot of control, I think, with the betting companies.”