Gambling Advertising - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 7:55 pm on 1st March 2022.

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Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee, Chair, Rural Economy Committee 7:55 pm, 1st March 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the link between gambling advertising and gambling-related harm.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Rural Economy Committee, Chair, Rural Economy Committee

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform. Since gambling advertising and gambling itself were liberalised by the Gambling Act 2005, the promotion of gambling products has grown exponentially, with an annual spend now in excess of £1.5 billion and a growing amount of that happening online. It is worth noting that one in six adults follows gambling companies on social media, as do a surprising number of children.

Also growing has been the level of public concern about gambling companies using ever more sophisticated means to attract new customers and persuade existing ones to spend more, using a range of techniques to keep customers hooked, from disguising losses as wins and celebrating near-misses, to offering so-called free money and free spins. Writing in the Guardian recently, Annie Ashton describes the predatory actions of gambling companies and how her husband Luke committed suicide after relapsing into his gambling addiction. She wrote that

“the pattern of his gambling was obviously harmful. He took advantage of a free bet offer, deposited money, lost money, was immediately advertised another free bet offer, and the cycle would begin again.”

Luke found that being “bombarded with ads” on his mobile

“made it a problem that became impossible to escape.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that earlier this month a group of 50 academics called for “badly needed” restrictions on the promotion of gambling products. They wrote:

“In our opinion it has become quite clear that the gambling products being offered and the ways in which they are promoted are harmful to individual and family health and damaging to national life”, adding that protecting young people should be a “top priority”, with unprecedented numbers being exposed to gambling advertisements via the internet and television. Their concerns include advertisements on TV, radio, online and elsewhere, gambling company logos on sports kits and in sporting venues, increasingly sophisticated direct marketing to individual customers and the use of sporting celebrities in gambling ads who become role models for vulnerable children.

These academics are not alone. There is a growing clamour for major reform among the public. A YouGov poll last year found that almost two-thirds of adults favour a complete ban on gambling ads and a ban on gambling sponsorship of sporting events and teams. In your Lordships’ House, the 150-plus members of Peers for Gambling Reform want change; just a few weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord True, speaking in a personal capacity but while at the Dispatch Box, said that as a sports fan he was

“sick and tired of gambling advertising being thrust down viewers’ throats.”—[Official Report, 27/1/22; col. 446.]

Some changes have been made. The Advertising Standards Authority has tightened some rules and, possibly to ward off a tougher crackdown, the gambling industry itself has taken action. The Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising, which is in addition to the ASA’s codes, has been strengthened and includes a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling ads during televised football games.

Although these moves are welcome, they only chip away at the barrage of messages adults and children see on a daily basis. After all, gambling logos can still appear more than 700 times in a single televised football game, despite the ban, because logos on shirts do not count as advertising. The industry and, at least until recently, Ministers, have used a variety of arguments against further restrictions: loss of income to commercial public service broadcasters and sports clubs, likely growth in black market gambling, and an absence, they claim, of evidence linking gambling advertising and gambling harm.

However, I believe that there are answers to each of these. For example, a ban on sponsoring sporting bodies could be phased in and the loss offset by offering sports rights, where gambling companies pay for the right to offer betting on sporting events. Working with banks, tougher measures against black market gambling could be introduced, although it should be noted that the Gambling Commission has said that the industry’s concerns about black market gambling are overstated.

I want to concentrate on the claim that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between gambling advertising and harm. To make this claim, the industry has frequently called in aid—as did John Whittingdale when he was Gambling Minister—the very limited survey of relevant research carried out by Per Binde in 2014, from which he concluded that none showed a causal link between gambling ads and harm. Yet the operators fail to mention that, more recently, in 2019, Per Binde produced a further study that concluded:

Gambling advertising may contribute to problem gambling, and problem gamblers are more sensitive to advertising impact than non-problem gamblers.”

Here, and around the world, there is a growing body of evidence to support that more recent conclusion by Per Binde. Following a review of evidence, the ASA, for example, said:

“Several studies … have found associations between advertising exposure and the behaviour of problem and at-risk gamblers.”

It said that some studies produced evidence that was

“robust enough to support the existence of an association between exposure and gambling behaviour”.

A study published in December 2021 in the Journal of Gambling Studies shows that advertising is a predictor of at-risk and problem gambling in secondary school children. A recent Gambling Commission survey found that 34% of British bettors admitted to being influenced by advertising, noting that 16% claimed that ads caused them to increase their gambling. Some 13% said that ads led them to initially take up gambling, and nearly 15% said that viewing ads resulted in them taking up gambling again after taking a break. Earlier this year, researchers at Ipsos MORI and the University of Stirling found that 96% of young people aged 11 to 24 had seen gambling marketing messages in the last month and were more likely to bet as a result.

Under the heading:

“Gambling Advertising has no public benefit and contributes to harm” the Coalition Against Gambling Ads cites multiple examples of recent research evidence and concludes:

“There is good evidence that, for a considerable number of people, gambling advertising substantially contributes to disordered gambling”.

These are just a few examples of the compelling body of evidence that has built up. It is undoubtably true that more research is needed, but there is now sufficient to suggest that we should be seriously concerned, and that industry claims that there is no link between gambling advertising and gambling harm should be dismissed. I was heartened that, in recent correspondence with me, the Minister, wrote that, “the government remains absolutely alive to the differential impacts and risks that gambling advertising may pose, especially to certain groups such as children and those already experiencing problems with their gambling.”

I am also heartened that, although it took some persuading, the Government now intend that the outcome of their gambling review will be based on a public health approach, just as we already have in relation to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. For gambling, a public health approach should lead to significant curbs on advertising, a ban on direct marketing, an end to inducements such as so-called free bets and the phasing out of sports sponsorship.

With around a third of a million problem gamblers, including more than 60,000 children, 2 million people impacted by it and more than one gambling-related suicide every day, we simply cannot continue as we are. Major reform of gambling advertising and other marketing measures are urgently needed and, despite what the industry says, are justified by the evidence. I hope the Minister agrees.

Photo of Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Conservative 8:05 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, if a child or young person has a close friend or carer who gambles, that individual is six times more likely to be a current gambler than those without a connection. We think of gambling as an adult activity but in the UK, 55,000 children aged 11 to 16 are classified as problem gamblers. Gambling has been normalised to such an extent that young people grow up thinking that it is a harmless activity. Clearly, social media has increased the ways in which children can be exposed to gambling, but a study has shown that TV remains the most common source of exposure; and almost all the 11 to 24 year-olds taking part in that study had been exposed to gambling marketing in the previous month. We know that the problem has been exacerbated due to lockdown and the visibility of gambling on social media.

The advertising code forbids the advertising of gambling to under-18s. Almost all forms of gambling are illegal for this age group, so they should not be a targeted audience, but gambling ads are not reaching children accidentally. Advertisers and platforms have access to sophisticated screening tools and accurately target children who are gambling. These ads should not be designed to appeal to children, with an emphasis on fun, cartoons, escapism and winning. E-sports gambling adverts appear to be more appealing to children and young people than adults—the figure is forecast to exceed $1 billion this year with an audience of 500 million, most of whom are children and young people.

The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, which works with many schools and youth practitioners, has stated that all gambling advertising should be designed and displayed in a way that is appropriate for adults and avoids marketing techniques that appeal to children. Clearly, the advertisers and platforms which host adverts should use technology and data to do more to protect children. We are now seeing a new and complex way of advertising contributing to the normalisation of gambling, as well as attracting young and vulnerable people to its audience.

The Gambling Act needs to consider these new techniques and be able to protect the young and vulnerable from the adverse effects of this new style of advertising. There needs to be far better education and awareness for parents and children, and a better use of age-screening tools. This problem is not going away and arguably, it is a public health issue with serious implications for mental health.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 8:08 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, our minds are filled with the terrible things which are happening in Ukraine, so much so that it would be easy to push other essential issues out of focus, but we must not allow ourselves to do that. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for giving us this opportunity to look again at the question of gambling, and especially the way it affects our children. Despite repeated attempts to stir, prod, dynamite those with power into taking action, we seem to have to go on making the same case again and again.

I am sure many of us share the same feeling of horror when told that there are 450,000 gamblers aged 11 to 16, of whom more than 60,000 are deemed addicts—figures cited by those who have preceded me in this debate. This is not the inadvertent repetition of an old man losing his marbles; it is a statement that needs repeating as many times as it takes to sink into the heads of those with power to act.

As a nation, we are now opening clinics offering advice and support to children and young people suffering from an addiction to gambling. This is, as has been said, a health crisis. We must find the will and fashion the tools to flatten the curve, and a ban on gambling advertising during sports matches is, as has been said, as good a place as any to begin and is long overdue. There is no reason for this not to happen—except, I suppose, for the shedloads of money that the gambling industry pours into the Exchequer every year.

If we know that children and at-risk gamblers are likely to watch sports games, why knowingly put them in harm’s way? An endorsement of gambling by someone’s favourite football team or player must surely influence the opinion of young fans. Legal it may be, at least for the moment; harmful it certainly is. As such, it fits easily among the legal but harmful issues currently being set forth in the online safety Bill.

This is indeed a health crisis: an epidemic. So, I ask the Minister a simple question. If we have the vaccine, the capability drastically to reduce the number of child problem gamblers and the experts begging us to do it, will the Government be part of the mission—or will they content themselves with being anti-vaxxers?

Photo of Lord Bethell Lord Bethell Conservative 8:12 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I am a champion of innovation, and I pay tribute to the gambling industry for the remarkable innovations it has made. I am not a big gambler—I enjoy the odd flutter—but I have seen a massive change in the level of entertainment that people get out of gambling. The industry has driven gambling to new audiences, and the way in which you can now gamble on sports is incredibly impressive. It uses advertising to reach audiences it has never reached before, and the image of the old bookie by the racecourse has been replaced by a high-tech company using the latest algorithms and behavioural techniques.

I must warn the industry, however, that with this immense power—the power of innovation, computers and psychological and behavioural science—comes responsibility. I am extremely concerned that it is in a state of denial about the impact of its innovation, particularly on the most vulnerable. We cannot continue to subsidise the industry for the £1.27 billion-worth of harms that is calculated to be affecting our society. We cannot have the NHS helping to look after tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of patients with acute gambling addiction. Some 246,000 people are estimated to have severe gambling harm-related illnesses. That is too heavy a load for our society to be carrying.

I ask the industry and the Minister to consider measures to protect two groups in particular. My noble friend Lady Chisholm talked about children, an area that concerns me in particular. With four small children, I know how much access they have to digital communications, and with a strong interest in sport, they are very easily lured into gambling of all kinds. Digital companies, which is what gambling companies have become, owe it to themselves and to society to make sure that our children are protected.

Secondly, the gambling industry has shown a long-standing generational lack of responsibility to those with severe mental illness when it comes to gambling. Time and again, casinos, and now the digital companies, have not stepped up to their responsibilities by cutting off those who cannot afford their own addiction. They should be using innovation and their digital insight to make sure that those who cannot afford to gamble are not allowed to gamble. The fines given to 888, which were in the papers this morning, are disgraceful. An NHS worker who was paid £1,400 a month was given a gambling gap of £1,300. That is not reasonable.

The industry owes it to itself to step up to these responsibilities, and I urge the Minister to look at ways in which the Government can help it do that.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 8:15 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Bethell, with whom I am in broad agreement. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on bringing this to the Floor of the House, and for the work that he does in this area.

I find myself in broad agreement with the points that have been made. Obviously, an awful lot is encompassed by the concept of gambling; it would include premium bonds as well as raffles and the National Lottery. Cases can certainly be made out for the good that they do, although admittedly with some hazards. Broadly, one can talk about a pleasure concept, which is all to the good, although with dangers to some people. Although I align myself with the Cavaliers rather than the Roundheads on the principle of pleasure, there is a broader public health danger that has been alluded to—and that is the point that we have to address.

I will home in one area that concerns me particularly, which is online gambling, particularly in the context of young people, as alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm. It is done on an industrial scale. Many of these companies are not even paying UK tax, although of course they are causing UK misery and causing the UK massive costs in dealing with these issues—although it is the misery that is clearly of most concern to us. It is high time that these companies were brought to heel. There may be other things that need doing, too—I am sure there are—but, as a first-off, the most important issue is to do something on that front. It is particularly dangerous and pernicious and it is done on an industrial scale. When I google “online gambling controls”, up springs not things that are controlling it but adverts for all these companies, often with names such as “Big Win UK Ltd”, and things like that. So there are great dangers, and I hope that the Government are going to address this sooner rather than later. We so often seem to be playing catch-up where there is broad agreement, and certainly broad support from the public, to do something in this arena.

As has been said, misery is caused—there are illnesses and suicides, and damage to the home environment and to business. I just cannot understand why we are dragging our heels on this, when there is broad agreement and a massive need to do something, and I hope that the Government come forward with something in this area in particular before it becomes even more serious. It is something that it seems to me we all agree on, but it is the sort of thing that gets overlooked, and I cannot understand why—so I do hope that the Government will press on and do something in this regard.

Photo of Lord Vaizey of Didcot Lord Vaizey of Didcot Conservative 8:18 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I declare my interest as sitting on the advisory board of Sisal, as part of its National Lottery bid—but also, amazingly, I am part of the Behavioural Insights Team advisory panel, looking at problem gambling. I come here not to defend the gambling industry but to defend public service broadcasters—and my noble friend the Minister will know that I am a stuck record on this issue.

Bizarrely, I have had a long association, on and off, with the gambling industry—I say “bizarrely” because I do not gamble at all. But long before I became an MP I worked with Rank, when the Labour Government were proposing super-casinos, and indeed with Victor Chandler when he went offshore to Gibraltar. So, amazingly, I know a bit about it—but not as much as noble Lords who have already spoken.

The point that I want to make as simply as I can is the same point I made when we debated junk food adverts—that I wish the Government and, indeed, many noble Lords would not simply reach for a ban on television advertising as somehow a solution to the problem of problem gambling or indeed of obesity. We need a much more sophisticated and comprehensive approach, and where we can find common ground is to urge the Government to spur themselves into action to provide a comprehensive approach to dealing with problem gambling or gambling excesses. For example, I strongly supported the ban on FOBTs that came into play. To echo what my noble friend Lord Bethell said, I spoke to somebody in the gambling industry who had urged the industry to take action itself, saying that otherwise the Government would take action for it— and the industry did not, and the Government quite rightly did.

So when we consider how to tackle issues such as problem gambling, and indeed the excesses of some gambling companies, please can we look at the online advertising environment, which is too often forgotten in this debate? Television advertising makes far less impact—if you accept that there is an impact—than the much more sophisticated targeting of people, based on their data and visits to websites, that you find online.

Look at the way gambling companies design their sites, and regulate that to ensure that they do not design sites that are attractive and designed to keep you coming back for more. Look at what innovative new banks such as Monzo have done, allowing people to fix their credit card and current accounts so that they cannot spend money on gambling sites. Work with the responsible gambling companies when they are doing the right thing. I read in the paper today, in the context of Flutter releasing its annual results, that it is apparently linking bonuses for its employees to reducing problem gambling.

So, in the short amount of time each of us is allowed, my simple and heartfelt plea is: please do not keep relentlessly targeting our poor public service broadcasters, which are competing against the likes of Netflix and Disney+, and instead produce a much more sophisticated and comprehensive plan to reduce problem gambling.

Photo of Lord Browne of Belmont Lord Browne of Belmont DUP 8:21 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing this very important debate. Gambling is a problem right across all areas of our society. It affects people from many different walks of life: poorer people, younger people, military veterans and busy professionals. It often does not discriminate. I have long been of the view that there need to be further measures to protect individuals, their families and communities from the harm caused by problem gambling, such as the stress-related disorders we have heard about this evening.

Many campaigners on tackling problem gambling rightly point to the dangers of online advertising. Gambling companies have increasingly embraced social media as a means of communicating with potential customers. Previous analysis of the public accounts of gambling companies has indicated that around 60% of all gambling advertising expenditure was spent on online advertising. Within that figure there has been a significant year-on-year growth in reliance on targeted advertising on social media and on affiliate social media sponsorship and advertising. Does the Minister recognise the dangers of introductory offer promotion and advertising via social media targeting, particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter? This is still a major issue for problem gamblers online.

Affiliates of gambling companies have a higher proportion of posts in terms of direct advertising. This can be seen clearly when browsing the websites and social media pages of some of our largest sporting teams. Online betting and casino offers such as “Always 10% cashback” and “Claim your free £30 or £50 in free bets” can be found strategically placed on social media posts and images relating to certain football or rugby teams. These often-misleading posts are designed to encourage people to sign up. We know for a fact that many people—regrettably, often those with existing problem gambling issues—are drawn in by these adverts and posts.

It is clear that this industry’s targeted use of social media algorithms specifically is an area that needs to be looked at more carefully. Have the Government any plans to deal with this problem? Have they met recently with Facebook or the other main social media organisations to explore avenues for much more co-operation in tackling these challenges? It is vital that we continue to do all we can, here and in the other place, to highlight and provide that help. It is essential to protect those most at risk from gambling-related harm.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 8:24 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on securing this debate. In doing so, I declare my interests, such as they are, as a non-executive director of the Channel Four Television Corporation.

This evening, I will concentrate on the number nine. Nine Premier League shirt sponsors are gambling companies; that is almost half the Premier League. Young people watching a game on TV are highly likely to see a gambling company on the shirts of one of those Premier League teams. If you have one of those fabulous soccer mags we all loved when we were kids, you are highly likely to see a gambling sponsor on the front of their shirts. Successive Governments have banned baccy and booze—does my noble friend the Minister think that problem gambling is less bad?

Following the theme of the number nine, I will concentrate on the 9 pm threshold. What does this mean in modern, 21st-century Britain? Is it that all those who may be attracted and horrifically addicted to problem gambling have all gone to bed before 9 pm? If it were to mean anything, it would have to be much later. Much more significantly, as other noble Lords have mentioned, it means nothing in an era of online platforms. Noble Lords have mentioned the algorithms and technology. The truth about this technology is that it is neutral; it has nothing positive or negative to say about gambling, but what it can do can be horrific and pernicious in the hands of people who purpose that technology and target it. We have to focus on the people driving that technology.

Finally, as your man has it, “When the fun stops, stop”. I ask my noble friend the Minister, for hundreds of thousands of problem gamblers, when did the fun even start?

Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Conservative 8:26 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for initiating this important debate. I refer to my interests as set out in the register.

We sometimes risk forgetting in these debates that, for millions of people in the UK, gambling is an enjoyable pastime which causes no harm and is part of the general social cohesion of weekly life. I enjoy the occasional flutter; I play the National Lottery and I enjoy a day at the races. I hope this does not make me a social degenerate.

In many ways, like the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, I want to try to help protect the gambling industry from itself. In an age in which self-governance is always preferable to top-down regulations, I want to encourage, for example, the industry to stop using tipsters and affiliates. Most tipsters and affiliates operate on social media; what they can say or the advice they give are not regulated, and they often make their money when the consumer loses bets. It is hard to imagine any other financial product being permitted to be sold so directly and recklessly. If the industry does not abandon this scheme soon, some type of licensing code will be needed to curb the predatory nature of that part of the business.

Secondly, I am concerned by reports of the number of women seeking treatment for gambling harm more than doubling in the last five years. I am often a bit shocked when I see an advert for online bingo, for example; it is easy to see how people can be tempted to sign up to these gambling products after watching such colourful—often pink and brightly illuminated—adverts depicting ladies, perhaps with a glass of wine, socialising together at online bingo on their tablets or mobiles with so-called online friends. A very different reality is experienced by thousands of women who, having clicked on almost any of the bingo sites, are besieged by pop-ups, VIP invitations and free monetary vouchers. My understanding of the advertising standards code is that an advert cannot suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal, professional or educational problems such as loneliness or depression. These sorts of adverts should really be looked at again by those making them and by the advertising regulators.

Lastly—I have raised this in the past—advertising standards on the National Lottery need bringing up to the same level playing field as the rest of the gambling industry. It cannot be right that we expect responsible gambling companies to put warnings such as “When the fun stops, stop” and “Bet to your pocket” while the National Lottery is permitted to use such taglines as “Set For Life”, “Dream Big Play Small” and “The fun starts here”. What the National Lottery is now becoming is not represented by its adverts; it is an online, instant-win, scratch-card gambling brand, more akin to any of the big online gambling companies and not solely the national institution it perhaps once was, selling paper lottery tickets. More work needs to be done in this area.

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 8:30 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak very briefly in the gap. Owing to the restraint of others, the gap is perhaps a bit longer than I had expected but I do not intend to take very much of it. I am on the executive committee of Peers for Gambling Reform, and I pay tribute to the devoted leadership which the noble Lord, Lord Foster, gives to that group on this subject.

Gambling, like alcohol, is at the same time an enjoyable activity and a dangerously addictive one. When tragedies occur, they all too often start in childhood, and yet we allow advertising on platforms to which children are especially likely to have access. One recent edition of the BBC’s Match of the Day magazine for “footy mad youngsters” featured 52 gambling logos within it. Like others, I am not against advertising, and I am certainly not against football, but I do not think that we should endanger our youngsters in order to support Premier League football clubs or—with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey—public service broadcasting. There is a balance to be struck here and I hope the Minister will tell us this evening that the Government are looking for it.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:31 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Foster of Bath on his excellent speech and declare my interest as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform.

In September 2021, Public Health England published its conclusions on the six harms caused by gambling. These are: financial, relationship breakdown, mental and physical health, employment and education, criminal and anti-social behaviour, and cultural.

We have heard some powerful speeches this evening. It is attractive to have a little flutter, and this could be quite exciting, but when this gets out of hand it is much more serious. Taking part in fundraising bingo evenings at Christmas and Easter for the local school, where parents give gifts, usually chocolate, as prizes, is a family event enjoyed by everyone. This is a very different matter from a serious gambler who stakes everything on one last throw to see if they can recoup their considerable losses. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, says about premium bonds—but you do get your money back.

Advertising different aspects of gambling on television gives the impression that it is a social, enjoyable experience, but the reality is very different. It can be a lonely, isolating and often sordid experience for those totally hooked. Often the gambler is aware of their addiction and does everything they can to avoid the temptation, but the offer of a free bet is often too tempting.

Regarding the gambling tax, research by NERA shows that curbing gambling will lead to more jobs, more money for research, education and treatment, and more tax reserves for the Exchequer.

The government response so far has been to review the Gambling Act 2005. In July 2021, DCMS promised a consultation later that year—nothing happened. In January, it said it would be coming soon—a favourite phrase of Governments. The Government further indicated they would consider banning VIP schemes and free bets in their review of the Gambling Act.

While the Government are havering, lives are being ruined and, in extreme cases, lost. Gambling and the advertising that promotes it need to be regulated more strictly than currently. Therefore, my question to the Minister, who has fielded many of the arguments raised this evening on previous occasions, is this: just when are the Government going to review the 2005 Act? Will the review and action be this month, in three months, in six months or never? Can the Minister please commit to a firm date?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 8:34 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Foster, on securing this debate. It seems that it has been shifted around nearly as frequently as the publication date for the Government’s own White Paper on gambling regulation.

Yesterday, in a response to an Oral Question from my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, the Minister seemed keen to hide behind the ongoing review, arguing that he could not “pre-empt” its findings and stressing that we must wait for the White Paper “in due course”. “In due course” seems to have stretched a very long time. That review was launched in December 2020, with the call for evidence closing at the end of March 2021. While we appreciate that the Government have other things on their hands and that they will have received a significant number of responses, accompanied by a raft of data, we are now in March 2022 and are none the wiser about the department’s intentions.

Each and every day, people are exposed to numerous adverts for lotteries, online casinos and sports betting. Much of this is during the broadcast of sporting events, as many noble Lords said, but a significant proportion is general advertising across TV, radio and print. We are all familiar with the proliferation of sponsorship deals with gambling firms in sports such as football, and it remains the case that more than 85% of people report seeing gambling adverts, but other stats should give cause for alarm.

Late last year, market analysis by Nielsen suggested that in a 12-month period, around 1,200 hours of gambling ads, or 100 hours per month, had been aired on radio stations during school-run hours—that is, 8 to 9 am and 3 to 4 pm. Why is it acceptable for children to be exposed to this in this day and age? After being contacted by the Guardian, the owner of Gala Casino reportedly instructed its media buyers to avoid bookings during school-run times. Why has this been left to gambling firms themselves? Could not Her Majesty’s Government have acted before the gambling firms seemed so concerned to act themselves? Of course, the Government need to establish the exact extent to which gambling advertising causes actual harm, but firms would not spend the sums they do—both on placing ads and securing celebrity endorsements—if they were not securing a sizeable return on that outlay.

Voluntary schemes to promote responsible gambling messages may have some impact, but we are still seeing too many people become problem gamblers and ad spending far outweighs funds given to support those who have an unhealthy relationship with gambling. We hope that the forthcoming White Paper will land on our desks sooner rather than later and that it will offer genuine solutions to these problems rather than tinkering at the edges.

Finally, can the Minister say whether the online harms Bill is a potential avenue for picking up some of these issues? We are in need of urgent regulation, and it has been left far too long.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 8:38 pm, 1st March 2022

My Lords, this has been another very good debate on a topic which I know continues to attract great interest from across your Lordships’ House, as indeed it should. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, on securing it and on the way he opened it this evening.

Clearly, the review of the Gambling Act represents a pivotal moment for gambling regulation, and I am pleased to have the opportunity again this evening to address these issues, although I will not be able to anticipate every element of the review. I will start with the points about timing, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton.

The gambling review and White Paper have not been delayed. Ministers are working swiftly with officials at DCMS and colleagues right across government on the White Paper. Our review is looking at a very wide range of issues and our call for evidence received 16,000 submissions, which we have been considering carefully, as I am sure noble Lords will want us to have done. This is the most thorough review of gambling law since the 2005 Act, and we must get it right. We will of course look to implement the outcomes of the review as swiftly as we can.

But we have not waited for the review before taking action to make gambling safer in the meantime where we can. In the last two years, as noble Lords will have heard me say before, we have banned gambling on credit cards, we have tightened restrictions on VIP schemes leading to a reported 70% reduction in the number of so-called “VIPs”, we have made online slots games safer by design, and we have raised the National Lottery minimum age to 18. So, we are taking action as well as carefully considering the review.

Gambling advertising is an important part of that review. The ways in which gambling is advertised and marketed have changed considerably since the 2005 Act. We must make sure that our rules on advertising, like other aspects of gambling, are suited to the digital age; we are determined to get these right as well. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, rightly used the opportunity of the gap to anticipate that striking the right balance in regulation is at the heart of our review; that is, the balance between respecting adults’ freedom to choose how they spend their money and preventing harm to children, vulnerable groups and the community more widely.

In addition to the careful consideration of advertising of gambling in the review, the Government have an ambitious vision for responsible advertising practices in the digital age which goes beyond any single sector. We will consult separately on our online advertising programme, which will establish an overall framework for fair, accountable and ethical online advertising to apply to all sectors.

We already have robust rules on gambling advertising, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, noted, have been strengthened at points over the years since the 2005 Act. All gambling advertising, wherever it appears, is subject to strict controls on content and placement. Compliance with the advertising codes is a licence condition for gambling operators. The Gambling Commission has an overarching requirement that advertising is socially responsible, and that the advertising codes are continually updated in the light of emerging evidence. The commission and the advertising rules ban inducements that encourage customers to gamble more intensely. Operators are not allowed to market directly to people who have self-excluded or customers showing signs of vulnerability.

Since the last gambling review, the Gambling Commission has introduced tough new requirements on operators’ VIP schemes. It has also cracked down on the use of misleading terms and conditions in promotional offers and marketing. The Committee of Advertising Practice has implemented changes to stop gambling adverts appealing irresponsibly to vulnerable adults. A final decision on strengthened rules on content appealing to children is expected shortly. The industry has also introduced the “whistle to whistle” ban, which the noble Lord, Lord Foster, raised, on advertising in live sport. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, mentioned, its code requires adverts in social media to be targeted only at users aged 25 and above and, for YouTube accounts, people aged 18 or over. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked whether we have met social media companies as part of the review. We have done so, at official level.

Turning to the evidence on harm, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, raised the 2019 research by Professor Binde. That research included the statement:

“There is no evidence in this study that gambling advertising in mass media substantially contributes to gambling problems.”

That would seem to confirm that it is people already experiencing gambling problems who are most likely to be affected by gambling advertising, but we do take preventing gambling harm very seriously. We are also alive—the noble Lord, Lord Foster, referred to our recent correspondence—to the disproportionate impact that gambling advertising can have on different groups; in particular, people who are already struggling with gambling problems. We will not hesitate to take action to rule out harmful practices and we welcome efforts to develop the evidence base and our understanding of this relationship.

A number of noble Lords rightly mentioned sport. As well as advertising, our review of the Gambling Act is thoroughly considering the evidence on the subject of gambling sponsorships in sport. We recognise both the concerns about the visibility of gambling brands in sports that are widely enjoyed by people of all ages, including children, and the role that sponsorship can play in supporting elite and grass-roots sport. Gambling sponsorship in sports is one of the areas under close consideration in the review. We are looking at the evidence closely to determine our approach on this issue; no decisions have been made.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond noted the popularity of football, particularly with children. We recognise the global reach of the Premier League and the upper echelons of football. There are rules in place to ensure that children are not targeted by gambling sponsorship. Sports governing bodies are also empowered to determine what level of involvement with the gambling industry is appropriate for their sport. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, mentioned the correlation between advertising and problem gambling in children and young people. Again, protections are already in place to limit children’s exposure to advertising. Gambling adverts must not be targeted at children or appeal particularly to them. The Committee of Advertising Practice will soon publish more on its plans to tighten the rules in this area.

My noble friends Lady Chisholm of Owlpen and Lord Bethell spoke further on the impact on children and young people. It is important to underline that most forms of gambling in the UK are currently illegal for people under the age of 18. Over the last decade, self-reported problem gambling participation by people aged 11 to 16 has seen an overall falling trend, from 23% to 11%. Those children who gamble typically do so in ways which are legal for them, such as private betting with friends or family. None the less, we recognise that it is essential that our gambling regulation works to protect children and vulnerable people. We have dedicated a chapter of our call-to-evidence to questions in this very important area.

My noble friends Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and Lord Vaizey of Didcot mentioned the online protections which are necessary. We have made significant progress in recent years on making online gambling safer, including a ban on gambling on credit cards and new rules to reduce the intensity of online slot games. However, we recognise that more can be done to protect those who gamble online. Our review is looking closely at the case for greater protections for online gamblers, including protections on products and for individuals. The Gambling Commission is also working to improve how operators use data to identify customers at risk of harm and how they can intervene. Operators already must monitor play and intervene when there are signs of harm.

My noble friend Lord Bethell asked about affordability checks. We see a clear role for considering an individual’s financial circumstances to help stop devastating losses, but to be workable and to prevent harm, checks need to be proportionate and be done in a way that is acceptable to customers. We continue to work closely with the Gambling Commission on this issue in the run-up to publishing our White Paper.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, asked about the Online Safety Bill. Online gambling platforms will be in scope of the regulatory framework if they host user-generated content or facilitate online interaction— for example, through chat functions. However, online gambling platforms which only enable interaction between individuals and the gambling company will not fall into scope of that Bill.

We have a robust regulatory regime which limits children’s exposure to advertising and the effect it may have on vulnerable people, but we, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Gambling Commission are always alert to where more may need to be done. We will be publishing our White Paper at the conclusion of the review and the consideration of all the submissions to it, along with our proposals for reform. We have been carefully considering the evidence that has been received and will continue to take into account the opinions given and further arguments made in debates such as this. I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for giving us this opportunity, and thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate. To the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and my noble friend Lord Bourne, I say, Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus.

Sitting suspended.