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Gambling Bill threatened by concerns over surge in pre-watershed adverts seen by children

  • @iburrell

Concerns that a generation of children are being schooled in gambling by an explosion in television betting advertisements before the 9pm watershed have led to plans in the House of Lords to derail the Government’s Gambling Bill.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, will face calls for an urgent review of the effects on children of a surge in daytime adverts for online bingo, saturation sports betting for matches shown before 9pm, and “free” betting on platforms including Facebook. The challenge will be made in an amendment to the Gambling Bill, which goes before the Upper House on Tuesday.

Research by the media regulator Ofcom in November found that gambling commercials on British television had increased by 600 per cent, from 234,000 to 1.4m a year, since deregulation of the sector in September 2007.

The 1.39m gambling ads generated 30.9 billion “impacts” or individual views. The Ofcom research found that a substantial number of adverts were shown before the watershed and that while adults saw an average of 630 ads, children aged between four and 15 watched an average of 211.

There are particular concerns in the House of Lords over the impact on children of the rise in advertising for Online Bingo. Because of its reputation as a traditional communal leisure activity, bingo was made exempt from restrictions imposed in the Gambling Act of 2005. Sports-related advertising was also permitted for screening before the watershed.

“Every sports ad break now starts and finishes with gambling adverts,” said Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, one of those calling for a review of the effects on children. “It has spread from football into other sports such as tennis. You cannot watch sports without being saturated with gambling adverts and if you have kids that is worrying.”

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said that online bingo had “taken off” but had “none of the attributes” of the game played in community centres and village halls. “It is solitary, repetitive and addictive,” she said.

“The exemptions allowing adverts for bingo and sports betting, combined with the new social media opportunities, have become major loopholes which the on-line gambling companies all too readily exploit,” she said in a posting last night on the Labour Lords blog.

“Anyone switching on morning or afternoon TV, as I did over Christmas, will see a relentless bombardment of ads for online bingo presented as an entertaining pastime with no mention of the dangers of addiction. Often these programmes are watched by children without adults present, and we know from other studies how susceptible they can be to adverts.”

There are also concerns that children are being “groomed” into gambling by sites that offer free stakes. One online poker operator, PKR, invites users to “join the next generation” and “play for free or real money”. Social game site Zynga offers free poker chips via Facebook and apps. But Baroness Jones said young people were being offered “tempting free joining offers which turn out to be anything but free”.

The challenge on pre-watershed betting adverts is just one of a series of amendments planned by Peers to overhaul Britain’s gambling laws, which are widely regarded as not having kept pace with technology.

Conservative peer Lord Moynihan, the former Sports Minister, has tabled a separate amendment to introduce a criminal offence of match-fixing, punishable by a jail sentence of up to ten years, in response to growing fears over the corruption of sport by international betting syndicates. Pakistani test cricketers found to have been fixing matches by deliberately bowling no balls had to be prosecuted under fraud laws in 2011. Lord Astor, father-in-law of Prime Minister David Cameron, is supporting another amendment to the Gambling Bill which would subject bookmakers to a levy on online betting that could be worth £20m to British horseracing.