My Lords, this is a timely debate for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington—timely because I too believe that gambling advertising has reached saturation point, especially for those for whom sport on television is a wonderful way of being where physically one cannot be. I could not have been in the southern hemisphere for the recent feast of world-class rugby there. Even if I had, I could not have then been in New York for the US Open. But through the wonders of television, I lived some great moments, for which I am hugely grateful.
Further, I am not naive enough to overlook the fact that the revenue from advertising helped to bring these delights to me—a point that would not be lost, to which he has admitted, on a shrewd businessman like the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington. That only makes his concerns about children more potent. Like him, although I was thrilled by the ups and downs of the sport I was seeing, I became increasingly concerned by the sheer amount of relentless advertising exhorting us all to gamble. Every commercial break was crammed to the gills with adverts which surely began to pall on many viewers by virtue of their repetition if nothing else.
There was even in these initially amusing commercials a truism to support the view that a fascination for gambling can take you over the edge. Consider the two characters in a life raft surrounded by sharks attempting to get at them. One man, not looking at a mobile phone is getting desperately concerned that his companion is so totally absorbed in a tennis match linked to betting that he is oblivious of the mortal danger he is in. Well, quite. Another version of this ad has the two men in a hut where a polar bear is trying to get in. A third involves a doomed spacecraft where one astronaut is utterly unconcerned as the controls go haywire.
When I first saw these ads, my somewhat dark sense of humour—indeed, I have to admit, the child in me—was tickled, especially since they are well acted and cleverly made. But as they were repeated ad nauseam, I became more and more dismayed and to be honest began to be rather attracted to the idea of puncturing the life raft, and opening the door to the bear to allow him in for a decent meal. Joking aside, it was my realisation that children whom we should encourage to watch sport would begin to think that this was an important part of enjoying sport.
Then we have a famous, somewhat laddish actor telling us that this is the club to be in; it is everywhere; it sees everything, he says, but then adds, as though daddy is watching, that we bet responsibly. Who is “we?”, and how does he know? What he means is: like cigarette manufacturers, he is putting the health warning on the side of the packet while making his way to the bank.
Gambling as an addiction is easily acquired, and it is a terrible curse. Financially the victim becomes like the man in the boat or the spacecraft where everything is going wrong. He is plunging to his doom but all will be well if he can just get in another bet. Yet the makers of these commercials realise that they were focusing in on just what many of us—daddies, if you like—are really concerned about.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones is a medical doctor and neuroscience researcher working as a consultant psychiatrist in addictions. She has published two text books on pathological gambling. Henrietta is the founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, based in Soho, London. She believes that we should have, “far more rigorous watersheds”, and that we should “remove all possibility of mixing gambling adverts and sports, as it gives a very mixed message to youngsters”.
Dr Bowden-Jones has seen the awful results of gambling addiction: ruined careers, broken families and the suicidal tendencies of those afflicted. And it is an affliction—the brain seeks ever more fixes, to use an opiate analogy, to be satisfied. As adults, we have the right to turn over—we do not have to watch. So it is really the potency of the concern about young people and children that is our focus here today.