Gambling Advertising in Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 5:00 pm, 19th March 2020

I will come to that in my speech.

Shockingly, gambling advertising is also prevalent on the shirts in the video game “FIFA 2020”—the country’s best-selling video game, which is recommended for ages three and above and is a firm favourite of many young children. Those children may not be aware of the nature of the sponsors’ business, but they will be aware of the names, and in time, they will come to realise the type of company that those names represent.

An analogy of this is my assistant’s 11-year-old son, Thomas. He can easily identify the flags of the world from just playing FIFA games. For obvious reasons, we have not asked him to identify the logos of the gambling companies, but children are absorbing this information every time they play these games.

It certainly feels like the gambling industry is tightening its grip on the world of sport, and especially football. Nearly every club now has an official gambling partner, and aside from the shirt sponsorship deals, many clubs have betting outlets inside their stadiums, and many leagues are sponsored by the industry. As we have learned from the recent Bet365 debacle, until recently, some matches were only available through betting company apps.

In recent weeks, I have written to the big six Premier League clubs—Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal—to ask them to meet me and colleagues from the gambling-related harm all-party parliamentary group, to discuss the deals they have with gambling companies and their plans. Interestingly, Tottenham replied within 24 hours, readily agreeing to meet, while Manchester United contacted my office to say they had asked the Premier League to represent them at a meeting. I have not heard back from the other four. I understand the importance of an industry body having a presence at a meeting, but I see no purpose in their attending in place of the clubs to talk about the deals that the clubs are responsible for.

It really worries me that vulnerable people are being groomed by the gambling industry through advertising. The Advisory Board for Safer Gambling has said that, by not taking action to limit the exposure of young people to gambling advertising,

“we are in danger of inadvertently conducting an uncontrolled social experiment on today’s youth, the outcome of which is uncertain but could be significant.”

The sector urgently needs to adopt a more responsible approach on advertising, particularly during sports programmes, to protect children and the vulnerable. Paddy Power’s “joke” football shirt sponsorship deal last year with Huddersfield Town, which got huge publicity, is an indictment of the current state of gambling sponsorship proliferation.

So, what should be done? First, of course, the industry itself must take action. The gambling-related harm APPG welcomes the whistle-to-whistle television ban. But for the advertising ban to be truly effective, these companies should go even further, to include shirt and league sponsorship and digital advertising around the pitch. Otherwise, children and vulnerable adults will continue to be bombarded with gambling adverts. That is something we hope to discuss with the Premier League clubs we have written to, who I hope to eventually get to meet.

I must also mention Lewes football club, which is soon to launch a charter to get other clubs to commit to ending gambling advertising in football in the same way that it has. The charter urges clubs to: never accept any form of sponsorship or donation from the gambling industry; actively promote and raise awareness of the risk of gambling addiction; lobby fellow clubs, leagues and the Football Association to refuse to advertise or promote gambling in football; and to support people and families affected by gambling addiction. I have had a brief conversation with my local club, Swansea City, which has gambling sponsorship but understands the issues and is actively seeking a way to sign up to that charter when it is in a position to do so.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the broadcasters have been quite resistant to the clampdown on advertising. Television companies have an important role to play, and they must start acknowledging and improving how they deliver on their duty of care to viewers.

Given the limited progress on dealing with gambling advertising, it seems that the time has come for a blanket ban on gambling advertising in sport. That is what we had before the Gambling Act 2005, and I am going to usurp the Minister by saying that, yes, that was Labour Government legislation, but I was not a member of that Government. Had I been, I would have objected to that Act in the strongest terms.

In the upcoming gambling review, there is much that I will ask the Government to do. However, on this issue, I urge them, as a matter of urgency, to bring an end to the highly profitable, yet highly damaging relationships between sports clubs and the gambling industry. A good place to start would be to talk to organisations such as The Big Step, which work tirelessly to promote the message of no gambling advertising in sports.

Many of us are willing to work with the Government to get this right. We have the voices. We have the knowledge. I ask the Government to let us help them transform and neutralise the damaging consequences of problem gambling.