That is one option. I am going to suggest at the end of this speech four initiatives that I would like the Government to examine.
In summary, a majority of people in the United Kingdom think that gambling should not be encouraged, that it is dangerous to family life and that it is too easy to do. There are now 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK—up by one-third in three years. The rate of problem gambling has nearly doubled from 0.4% to 0.7%, and among 16 to 24 year-olds, it has doubled from 0.7% to 1.5%. These are disturbing increases because some evidence suggests that gambling is more addictive than alcohol or drugs: about 90% of recovering gamblers relapse, a higher proportion than for these other addictions.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 80% of addicted gamblers think about killing themselves and one in five make an attempt to take their own lives—nearly twice the rate for the other addictions I mentioned. As a result, gambling addiction costs the UK up to £1.6 billion a year in mental health, police and welfare system services. The social effect of addictive gambling does great damage to the family unit and to the disposable income the family should enjoy.
There is, as far as I can ascertain, just one specialist NHS gambling clinic. Founded in 2008, it is funded by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. Last year, it helped 762 people aged 16 and over, most of whom used mobile gambling apps, a practice which is growing faster and faster. In 2016, the clinic received 20% more referrals from GPs, counsellors and indeed addicts themselves than in 2015. The picture of a growing gambling crisis is not hard to paint, particularly among the young.
The Gambling Commission released a study last year which estimated that some 450,000 young people—one in six of those in this country between 11 and 15—gamble at least once a week. That is a higher number than those who smoke or take drugs, and twice the number who drink alcohol. The research suggests that although the number of children drinking or smoking is falling, the opposite is true of gambling. Statistically, it is probable that 9,000 of these children will become problem gamblers, and yet 60% of them agree that gambling is dangerous, 63% had seen advertisements on social media and 57% saw the promotion of gambling on other websites.
Common sense suggests that the ever-growing advertising budgets of the gambling companies, particularly around and during sporting events, are contributing to this upward trend. Last year the gambling industry spent £312 million—a 63% increase on 2012. A little less than half this budget was spent on TV and a little more than half on online and other advertisements. While TV advertising is up 43% since 2012, online platforms are up 87%. Affiliate marketing is also growing fast. Your Lordships may have seen that just yesterday, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against some gambling firms over adverts placed by affiliates, the agencies paid to direct gamblers to online casinos and bookmakers. Children are, in my view, being bombarded with gambling messages in all directions, both in conventional advertising and online.
It would be wrong to suggest that my view is universally accepted. The Committee of Advertising Practice and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising focused their reviews on Ofcom figures which showed that in 2012—admittedly, five years ago—children only saw four gambling commercials a week, and much of this research suggests that there is much less impact on young people than my intuition implies.
What does the current law say about this? The Gambling Act 2005 permits betting and gambling companies to advertise across all media channels in our country. The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling requires all gambling advertisements to be scheduled after the 9 pm watershed, except bingo advertisements or sports betting advertisements shown around the televised sporting event itself. All gambling advertisements are, of course, heavily regulated. Some gambling advertising—for example, “Money back if your horse loses”—can only appear after 9 pm. However, there are three issues here.
The first is that the average age at which children start to watch post-watershed TV unsupervised is now 11 years and three-quarters. Secondly, children now access programmes when they choose, not when they are scheduled. Thirdly and obviously, social media in the online sphere is how the vast majority of youngsters interact with each other, choose their lifestyle and share their experiences. I would be less concerned with this whole subject if I felt that the industry were not glamorising gambling—using film stars, for example, to sponsor their brands. Most importantly, I would be happier if commercials carried a stark health warning. Do we really believe that health warnings such as, “When the fun stops, stop” really tell enough about the danger that gambling could present to the person watching the programme? Do such warnings, or references to the website BeGambleAware, really engage young people and children and educate them about the risks that gambling presents?
Other countries are taking this really seriously. Australia, for example, is considering whether to ban all gambling advertising before 8.30 pm, during all sporting events and for five minutes before and after play. Intuitively, therefore, as a parent and a grandparent, I feel that something is wrong here. Not all the statistics support my case. Some clearly suggest that the damage I am predicting for young people is overstated and the chances of this leading to a gambling epidemic is overblown. What I do know is that we need better, independent information. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that GambleAware is now looking at tendering for research into this very area, particularly online marketing.
I call on the Government to ask four questions as they review the industry. First, should there be any gambling commercials during sporting events? Should children be exposed to these advertisements? Does the 9 pm watershed provide adequate protection to young people in the light of changed viewing patterns and online viewing?
Secondly, in preparing for this debate I found that we need more reliable research, particularly on the online gambling industry and its potential effect on children. I will carefully scrutinise the Government’s recommendations in this area, as I will the work by GambleAware to which I referred.
Thirdly, should we strengthen the health warning on gambling commercials to make the risks gambling can present absolutely clear? I want to be sure that if a child sees an advertisement for gambling, he or she also sees a clear, contextualised statement of the risks gambling can present. This is exactly what we have done to considerable effect with smoking.
Fourthly, will the Government rethink the voluntary contribution by gambling companies of 0.1% of their profits to GambleAware? This is an excellent initiative because it provides the funds for much needed research, education and, very importantly, treatment. Could we not do more in this area? If such initiatives were undertaken, it would go a long way to putting to rest my unease when I next watch a test match or football match at home with my children and grandchildren, because I will feel confident that we are doing all we can, in a free society, to minimise the risk of gambling addiction becoming a growing social issue among the young.