UK Licensed Gambling Firms May Face More Restrictions

Cross-party group of MPs demand tighter advertising restrictions from government

Online and land gambling companies licensed in the UK could be faced with more restrictions if a cross-party group of MPs succeeds in its demands that the pastime be treated as a public health issue with restrictions similar those required of the tobacco and alcohol industries.

Reporting on the group, which includes shadow culture secretary Tom Watson, Lib Dem minister Don Foster and former Tory minister John Hayes, The Guardian newspaper quotes Watson, who observes that “the onus of social responsibility remains subject to the self-regulation of the licensee is not working” and claims that that rules around betting ads are being flouted by the gambling industry, exploiting legal loopholes “without fear of meaningful sanction”.

Among its demands, expressed in an open letter to culture secretary Matt Hancock, the group wants a ban on gambling ads during live sporting events and the imposition of measures drawn up by the ResPublica thinktank to ensure “greater compliance, fairness and social responsibility in the advertising and licensing of gambling”.

The New Zealand model for gambling policy, in which gambling is handled by the Department of Health, is favoured.

“Gambling advertising should be consistent with other types of addictive or harmful products to public health such as cigarette packs, by featuring clearly identifiable health warnings that cannot be absorbed into an advert’s overall design,” the open letter declares.

“The wording of gambling advertisements is a problem because words such as ‘win’ and ‘fun’ are emphasised rather than ‘harm’, thus normalising the idea of gambling as a leisure pursuit rather than an addiction.”

Affiliate marketing is also targeted critically in the letter, particularly advertising disguised as news which is used to attract punters to betting sites, and tipsters working on commission. The group would like to see companies benefitting from such practices subject to licence revocation

Watson, who is also deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: “Gambling addiction is Britain’s hidden epidemic. It’s time to start treating this as the public health crisis it is.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that the department has set out a package of measures to increase protections around online gambling and advertising.

“From next month, responsible gambling messages must appear on screen throughout all television gambling adverts, and a multimillion-pound safer gambling advertising campaign will launch later this year,” she said.

Related: UK Gambling Industry in the News — Weekly Round-up for June 1, 2018