I too add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, for introducing this important debate, which has such implications for young people in our country.
Gambling-related advertising poses a substantial risk of harm to children. I am grateful for the work that the Advertising Standards Agency does to regulate the industry, but I do not think that we have been either bold or creative enough in our efforts to protect our children and young people. As we have already heard, exceptions to current regulations allow adverts for bingo and sports betting before the 9 pm watershed, which means that children are now being exposed to record-breaking numbers of gambling-related advertisements. Whether or not they are specifically aimed at children, they are allowed to display footballers and other personalities and stars who may themselves be children, commending and glamorising it as a lifestyle.
According to Ofcom, between 2005 and 2012, the number of gambling-related adverts on TV increased from 90,000 to 1.4 million. In 2012, the average child watching TV saw 211 gambling-related ads per year. The problem is particularly linked to the exception in the current advertising rules that allows sports gambling companies to place ads during pre-watershed football matches. Two-thirds of ads for sports betting are shown pre-watershed. There is substantial evidence that that affects children’s behaviours, especially that of young boys. In the Gambling Commission’s most recent study, more than one-fifth of 11 to 15 year-old boys had spent their own money on a gambling activity in the week before the survey. That compares to just 11% of girls, and mirrors the fact that more men than women in this country are classed as problem gamblers. It is considerably higher than the levels of those who report drinking, smoking or taking drugs and the addictions associated with them.
Exposing young children, especially boys, to huge amounts of advertising, particularly during football matches but also during other games, is a risk to the population’s overall well-being. Allowing some kinds of advertising pre-watershed but not others sends out mixed messages to children and confusingly suggests that some kinds of gambling may carry fewer risks than others. Psychological research tells us that children are less able to make reasonable and appropriate judgments about advertising and are particularly vulnerable to exposure. It is one thing to advertise to adults, who are more able to make fully informed decisions about risk, and another entirely to expose children to this barrage of adverts.
Children need to be educated about gambling by families, schools and other responsible sources in the community. The Gambling Commission survey suggested reasons why children go in for gambling included a desire to make money, because they thought it would be more fun or exciting.
As we all know, games of chance are no substitute for employment, and the enjoyment some people gain from gambling must be balanced with a knowledge of the substantial risk and responsibility involved for those who choose to play. Allowing children to be exposed to gambling adverts interferes with their ability to receive responsible, balanced messages about the risks of gambling.
Of course, the next frontier is gambling advertising online. More than 60% of 11 to 15 year-olds have seen gambling ads on social media, with a similar number seeing other online ads. I am anxious to hear what comments and analysis we will get from the gambling review on online advertising, and children in particular, but it is clear that betting companies are not doing enough to ensure that children do not see their ads. It is not enough that ads are not targeted at, or designed to appeal to, children. It would be better for children to not have to confront these ads at all, for their own safe development.
Both government and industry have begun to recognise the effect many forms of advertising have on young people. A recent editorial in the respected medical journal, the Lancet, called problem gambling a “public health concern”, saying that the UK has not met the,
“need to balance tax revenue with a duty of care to vulnerable members of society.”
Surely children are some of the most vulnerable and impressionable members of our society. The Government have rightly taken steps to ban cigarette companies from sponsoring sport, and restrict alcohol and junk food advertising targeted at children. The Football Association, recognising the problem that gambling has in the community, has ceased sponsorship deals with betting firms—including a £4 million contract with Ladbrokes—and does not allow betting firms to put sponsorship ads on children’s T-shirts. Nevertheless, further action must be taken to close loopholes and force betting firms to take more drastic action to protect children. We have already heard that recent legislation in Australia has banned gambling adverts during pre-watershed sporting events.
We all accept that betting is part of the life of our nation. Many people enjoy it and do it responsibly; nevertheless it seems to be a growing problem, which may reap a terrible harvest later on. I hope that the Government will be brave in acting to confront this problem in the upcoming review, for the sake of children and their families around our country.