Odds on rough ride in the Lords for Gambling Bill as Ofcom study raises question of children’s exposure to advertising

Substantial number of ads 'were shown before the watershed'
  • @iburrell

Concerns that an explosion in pre-watershed television betting advertisements is schooling a generation of children in gambling 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 advertising for online bingo, saturation sports betting in football matches shown before 9pm, and “free” betting on platforms including Facebook. The challenge will be made in an amendment to the 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 since the deregulation of the sector in September 2007, growing from 234,000 to 1.4 million a year.

Gambling adverts generated 30.9 billion “impacts” or individual views. The Ofcom research found that a substantial number of ads were shown before the watershed.

There are particular concerns in the House of Lords over the  rise in online bingo advertising. Because of its reputation as a traditional communal leisure activity, bingo was exempt from restrictions imposed by the Gambling Act of 2005. Ads for sports-related betting were also permitted 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. 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.

“Exemptions allowing adverts for bingo and sports betting, combined with the new social media opportunities, have become major loopholes which the online gambling companies all too readily exploit,” she wrote 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” by gambling sites that offer free stakes. One online poker operator, PKR, invites users to “join the next generation”.

Challenging pre-watershed betting adverts is 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.