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MPs told ‘no evidence’ of link between sports advertising and problem gambling

Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher said he supported the Government’s ‘evidence-led’ approach to the gambling White Paper.

Josie Clarke
Tuesday 11 July 2023 13:04 BST
The Betting and Gaming Council says there is no evidence of a link between advertising in sports grounds and problem gambling (Rebecca Naden/PA)
The Betting and Gaming Council says there is no evidence of a link between advertising in sports grounds and problem gambling (Rebecca Naden/PA) (PA Archive)

The main lobby group for the UK betting industry has told MPs that there is no evidence to support a link between sports advertising and problem gambling.

Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that he supported the Government’s “evidence-led” approach to the recently-released gambling White Paper.

He said the industry welcomed the White Paper “very, very strongly”, not least for measures including enhanced spending checks and a new ombudsman.

The Government, having reviewed all of the evidence, found no evidence

Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher

Asked by committee member John Nicolson if there should be a complete ban on advertising in sports grounds that made gambling attractive to children, Mr Dugher replied: “If the objective is to reduce harm, to tackle problem gambling, it would be a sensible thing to do if there was any evidence of a link between advertising and sports sponsorship and problem gambling.

“And the Government, having reviewed all of the evidence, found no evidence.”

But Mr Nicolson noted that the Premier League had agreed to voluntarily remove ads from shirts, adding: “That’s an admission that it does do harm. They wouldn’t agree to do it if they hadn’t concluded that it did harm.”

Mr Dugher replied: “They didn’t actually conclude that there was harm. They recognised that there was public concern about the scale and volume of branding around football and they responded to that.”

He added: “It’s important to get to the heart of this. There are two fundamentally different philosophical approaches. There are those who believe that gambling is like tobacco – something that is universally and intrinsically harmful to all, in which case that leads you down a journey of advertising bans, sports sponsorship bans.

“There’s an alternative view, which is the one I share – I think the majority of people share – which is gambling is much more like alcohol, which is something that millions of people do, and the vast majority of people do it perfectly responsibly and safely, however there are people who can have a problem and in the most extreme cases those issues can be devastating.

“That lends itself to a better approach, which is about better regulation, restrictions on advertising, raising standards, they’re the things that I’d like to see more of now that this White Paper is published.”

Mr Nicolson asked Mr Dugher why he thought the gambling industry makes “so much more money than it used to”, saying: “Let’s look at the figures. People enjoy gambling, they’ve always enjoyed gambling historically but the figures have gone up dramatically. In 2011 the gross gambling yield for the gambling industry was 8.4 billion. It rocketed last year to 14.1 billion. That’s a huge increase.”

Mr Dugher said: “I think 22.5 million people enjoy a regular bet. That is a lot of people. Half the adult population. By regular we mean certainly on a monthly basis. A huge chunk of that is National Lottery, which is why I’m slightly surprised that the National Lottery isn’t really part of this gambling review.”

Mr Nicolson replied: “But a lot of people hate it of course. You guys like to associate the word enjoy with gambling but for a lot of people gambling represents absolute misery. It represents depression, it represents broken families, the gambling industry preys on some of the poorest in society in particular. We know this. That is why, surely, some of the reforms that this Bill proposes are eminently sensible to tackle problem gambling.”

Wes Himes, director of standards and innovation at the Betting and Gaming Council, replied: “Yes, and that’s why we work tirelessly to try to bring in more measures. We’ve developed 11 codes over the last three years, over 80 substantial measures which sit on top of regulation and legislation in order to create that safer gambling culture.”

Mr Himes also claimed a reduction in problem gambling rates over the last seven years, telling the committee: “They have nearly halved since 2017 to 0.3% today – one of the lowest problem gambling rates internationally.

“So even though there has been a rise in the enjoyment of the product, there has also been a reduction in the problem gambling rate during that same time.”

Mr Nicolson went on to question Mr Dugher on “ludicrously lax” checks made by firms, saying: “That’s why William Hill was fined £19 million for a range of failings, including one customer being allowed to open a new account and … gambled £23,000 in just 20 minutes with no checks. And that’s recently.

“And that’s an eminent failure in what you say you are doing which is to control problem gambling. How is it possible that a single man lost 23,000 in 20 minutes if your checks are effective?”

Mr Dugher said: “You raise rightly the William Hill fine because that was a very recent fine. What I would say about that is, that’s the regulator doing its job. There clearly was a failure there…

“And it did highlight that in those circumstances the industry was falling short. There had been a failure of systems.

“Look, I’m not going to defend any company when things go wrong.”

But he added: “The regulator themselves concluded that the operator put in place measures to improve those systems to ensure things like that couldn’t happen again.”

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