Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, put the government on a collision course with the gambling industry last week when she announced that a review of gambling TV ads would be included in a wider look at fixed-odds betting terminals and other gaming machines.
Gambling brands have been allowed to advertise widely on TV since 2007 and, although they are
generally banned before the 9pm watershed, there are exceptions for ads shown in sports broadcasts, bingo brands and The National Lottery. Gambling spots have exploded in prevalence in recent years: Ofcom figures show there were 1.39 million in 2012, up from just 152,000 in 2006.
Since the rules were relaxed, some sources suggest that Britain has seen a surge in problem gambling, with charity GamCare, which operates the National Gambling Helpline, saying it handled 18% more calls in 2014-15 than the previous year and had 39% more clients receiving treatment. But it’s not clear how significant a role TV ads have played in any rise.
Brian Wright, head of business at the Remote Gambling Association, points out that the last government review into gambling ads was only last year, when the Advertising Standards Authority and Committees
of Advertising Practice were satisfied that the status quo did enough to protect children and vulnerable adults. In August 2015, the Gambling Commission tightened its own rules, curbing ads for sign-up offers before 9pm – a move welcomed by the minister responsible for gambling, Tracey Crouch.
National Gambling Helpline said it handled 18% more calls in 2014-15 than the previous year and had 39% more clients receiving treatment
But a full daytime ban appears to be back on the agenda after Bradley expressed concern that her own children could recite betting ads they had seen during sport broadcasts. ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn says it will now be crucial for adver-tisers to stress the economic contribution made by gambling ads, arguing that, without them, free-to-air live sport would often not be possible on commercial channels, meaning consumers would lose out.
But a number of ad agencies have echoed the mistrust felt by some towards betting brands. One chief executive says that gambling ads "give our industry a bad name", arguing that if advertising was restricted, other sectors would come forward to take advantage of the commercial opportunity live sport offers.
Either way, it’s a prospect broadcasters should be seriously preparing for, with media analyst Claire Enders saying the possible ban appears to be coming from "the highest levels" in government – and that media owners should brace themselves for bad news.