Sport: Gambling Advertising — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Duty Solicitor Scheme – in Westminster Hall at 11:27 am on 13 March 2024.

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[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 2:30, 13 March 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered gambling advertising in sport.

A couple of weeks ago in this Chamber, we debated affordability checks in gambling, and the Government Benches were rammed with those who seemed to have racecourses in their constituencies. They did not understand that affordability checks did not apply on course. I am not sure where they are today—did someone say Cheltenham?

I do not claim to be an expert on how advertising and marketing work. Like most people, I am exposed to adverts on TV, billboards and the internet. I wonder, does associating a puppy dog with a certain brand of toilet paper make me more likely to buy that brand? Do pictures of a car racing through stunning mountain scenery or unusually empty city centre streets increase the chances of me buying that particular car? Do adverts offering me free bets or extra spins make it more likely that I will gamble?

I—like most people, I presume—believe that I am impervious to such obvious and sometimes clumsy attempts at selling, and then I take a step back and see that I am also guilty of this. That is particularly obvious during an election year. I am trying to get re-elected, and I promote myself and the brand I represent through advertising. I consider how best to get that combination over to my constituents and, like most politicians, I use the tried and tested methods of leaflets, door knocking, newsletters, hustings, radio, TV and social media. I tell people, “Vote Cowan. Vote SNP.”

My experience tells me that this has worked three times before, and that I have therefore done something right. The gambling industry is simply doing the same thing, but its income is vast. It spends huge sums of money—£1.5 billion a year—to achieve a far greater reach than any parliamentarian can, and we are all exposed to it. If I see a letterbox that says “no leaflets”, I do not post one. Unfortunately, the gambling industry is less selective, and by placing adverts in and around sporting arenas and putting them on the players and around the pitch, it removes the opportunity for fans to decline the offer of being advertised to.

Despite the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committee of Advertising Practice, the gambling industry continues to stretch the rules, with 3,500 gambling logos visible during a single English premier league game, in plain sight for anyone to see. Only 7% of those were on the front of shirts, so the impending change to adverts on the front of shirts means nothing, and the gambling industry knows it. It was proposed that family areas free of gambling adverts could be established in football grounds, but one year on, nothing has changed. When it comes to advertising to children, bet365, Ladbrokes, MrQ, and Lights Camera Bingo all broke the rules.

In short, if the gambling industry—any industry—did not think that spending huge amounts of money was not generating more in returns, it simply would not do it. Self-regulation is not sufficient for any industry ever-hungry for more. Advertising increases the gambling industry revenue. Advertising normalises gambling. According to the ASA, that was a predicted consequence of the Gambling Act 2005. Advertising increases the reach and therefore the number of people who are gambling.

The hypocrisy is that while gambling benefits from the sports, most sports do not actually benefit from gambling. The gambling industry is a parasite living off the lifeblood of the sports that it uses. It makes gambling the most important factor and the sport a poor second. The game is not the same without a bet—that is the message.

That is a great shame. I remember great moments in sport with joy: Daley Thompson’s decathlon golds in 1980 and 1984; Ian Botham’s 149 against Australia at Headingley; Ovett, Coe and Cram racing against the clock and one another; Torvill and Dean at Sarajevo in 1984; and Andy Murray winning Wimbledon twice. There was not an advert in sight. And George Best just being George Best—I did not need a bet on these things to enjoy them. The sport must be the priority and gambling advertising must be curtailed. I would say that, just like tobacco, it should be completely removed from the world of sport.

Of course, this issue goes beyond that. The UK Government have said that there was “good evidence” that advertising had a “disproportionate impact” on people who already had problems with their gambling. In addition, some forms of online advertising had a strong appeal to those under 18. According to an Ipsos MORI report, more than four out of five of those aged 11 to 24 reported seeing gambling advertising on TV, and that includes the national lottery. Two thirds reported seeing gambling promotions on their social media channels.

In September 2023, a Bristol University report told us that 92% of content marketing ads sent by major gambling brands were not clearly identifiable as advertising, which breaches a key advertising regulation, and that less than a quarter of them featured age warnings. There was at least one gambling advert during any commercial break on talkSPORT radio and there were 600 gambling messages during two hours of Sky Sports News. In addition, 1,902 gambling ads on social media generated a total of 34 million impressions.

One of the lead researchers, Raffaello Rossi, said that the report showed that

“gambling marketing during Premier League weekends is inescapable”, and that fans were

“bombarded with gambling marketing through various channels, making it a normal part of football consumption.”

He claimed that self-regulation of the gambling industry was “completely failing”.

Meanwhile, the Gambling Commission will review incentives, continue to monitor practices and work to strengthen consent for direct marketing. But in the here and now, 80,000 UK children are addicted to gambling or at risk, up to 1.4 million adults in the UK are harmed directly and 20% of the population is harmed directly or indirectly. There are between 117 and 496 gambling suicides in England every year.

The time to review and monitor has passed. We need to understand the nature of addiction and see it as a health issue. We need to slow down gambling, build in cooling-off periods and give people space and time to consider their actions and the outcomes. Advertising does the opposite of those things; it pushes, cajoles and encourages.

Finally, we need to respect the fact that some people might be triggered by adverts. We need to protect our children. Nobody is asking anyone to make some sacrifice for this; we are not asking the Government to dip into their pocket. We can ban gambling advertising and we should do that now.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 2:37, 13 March 2024

As ever, Sir Christopher, it is a privilege to serve under your stewardship. May I apologise in advance to the Members here, including the Minister and the Opposition spokesman? I have been losing my voice for most of the last week. Lots of my colleagues think that is a good thing, but I give warning that if I stop suddenly, it is because I have given up on this, although not on getting rid of gambling advertising in sport, which is important. I also may not be here for the wind-ups, because—self-evidently—I have to go to a doctor’s appointment.

Alongside Ronnie Cowan—my hon. Friend in this matter—I am a vice chair of the all-party group for gambling related harm. Although we strongly support the measures that the Minister has introduced—I credit him for having moved this issue along more than many others have done before him—the whole idea of voluntary agreements with the gambling industry have been proved time and again to be a waste of time. All that happens is that companies are driven by the requirement to constantly renew the users of their gambling area and, most importantly, as we know, the gambling industry targets those who lose, and lose big. That is where their money is made and where their profits are drawn from, and what they must constantly do is have their idea in front of those people, to suggest to them subliminally, but still very clearly, that if they just gamble a bit more, they will win something else. That is the nature of gambling. People say to me, “Yes, but you know, these are just adverts on shirts. Nobody remembers seeing them.” But the figures, some of which have been mentioned, are remarkable, and I will cite some of them.

Ipsos MORI and the University of Stirling found that 96% of people aged 11 to 24 had seen and could remember gambling marketing messages and that they were “more likely” as a result—their words, not mine—to bet as a result of their seeing advertising on shirts and hoardings, or wherever they happened to be. More than three quarters of young people, or 78%, and 86% of adults think that betting has become an absolutely normal part of watching sport—I will say that again: watching sport. Back in the 18th century, people bet everything on all sorts of sporting events, and it had to be brought under control because of the abuses that took place. Today, we see things that are redolent of a very unlicensed, but at the same time, desperately dangerous activity that is pushing people to spend their money and become addicted to a process that ultimately damages them and their families.

Gambling marketing in football cannot be avoided by fans of any age. I say that as a season ticket holder at Tottenham Hotspur, who do not use gambling, but I watch other teams and the marketing is all over their shirts. I know the idea is to move it away from the front of the shirt to the side or whatever, but most of the evidence shows categorically that it makes no difference, because the marketing will be on the shirts that people buy. The company that the club has a sponsor becomes part of the nature of the club. That is important.

One study found that at football matches there was a reference to gambling on average every 21 seconds. Half of the premier league’s 20 clubs and 17 of the 24 championship clubs have gambling companies on their shirts and, of course, the football league is sponsored by Sky, which has its own betting company. They all use celebrities to front up a lot of the adverts and present this as something normal and exciting. They target, for the most part, young men, but now more and more young women, who are portrayed as beating the odds. The reality is far from that. I am not against people betting if they want to bet and gamble—they can do that. The question is whether we want to see this promoted in such a way that it becomes normal. That is the critical issue that we are discussing.

Another concern at a recent session of the all-party group for gambling related harm was the failure of current ASA codes to deliver on the reduction of harm. In the opening weekend of the EPL, it was observed that 92% of content—marketing ads—sent by major gambling brands were not clearly identifiable as advertising, as has been said, and thus breached the codes, which is obvious for us to see. We know—the Minister knows—that this happens all the time, so we need to tread very carefully when we think that we can rely on agreements with the gambling industry. It is not its nature, for the most part, to abide by those agreements. It is its nature to seek to multiply the number of people that will gamble, so it will push the envelope on any agreement that is made.

The current codes are ill-equipped to deal with the online-specific forms of marketing. The ASA should consider the creation of new codes as opposed to revisions of pre-existing codes. That would perhaps ensure that social media and online marketing can be effectively regulated.

I am not one of those who wants to regulate everything, stop everything and take the pleasure out of what people choose. My view, however, is that, as with common law, when it is clear that harm is being done, we have an obligation to see whether we can restrict that harm so that people’s lives are not damaged—not before, not anticipating the event, but actually dealing with the harm that exists at present. The push of gambling advertising is huge. Nobody who watches television or a sporting event can escape the idea that this is in front of them, even subliminally, although they may not remember it. Unless advertising reform is enacted at the source of harm, the reforms will be confined to playing catch-up to the constantly evolving landscape of sponsorship, marketing and advertising, and consequently failing to reduce gambling harms.

That is why I support the motion and why this matter is cross-party. We have an obligation to deal with some of the tougher issues that come our way. Notwithstanding the amount of tax these companies pay to the Treasury, the harm to human beings is the real currency of our lives, and we need to bring that to an end.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 2:45, 13 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate Ronnie Cowan on securing this important debate on an issue that I and many of my constituents care deeply about.

Almost 7,000 gambling messages were shown in six televised matches over the premier league’s opening weekend. If that does not set off alarm bells, I am not sure what will. My speech will not completely oppose gambling—in fact, I am sure I will be placing a bet on the grand national in a few weeks’ time, and my other half does a few quid on the acca for football on a Saturday—but it is clear that gambling addiction, fuelled by excessive gambling advertisements, impacts our communities. YouGov research found that nationally 1.4 million adults are harmed directly by gambling. Shockingly, the Gambling Commission stated that 80,000 UK children are addicted or at risk.

I want to say thank you to the brilliant organisations, Gambling with Lives and The Big Step campaign, which raise awareness of the harm that is being caused. They have introduced me to their volunteers, who have personal connections to the harm caused by gambling. Some had loved ones who sadly ended their lives as a consequence of their gambling addiction. Others are survivors who now campaign to ensure that other people do not suffer the pain that they did. The message is always the same: the pain is preventable. I have found many of these discussions incredibly moving.

The current gambling regulations are failing the public terribly, and there is no sign of change to protect the next generation, as we have heard from others. The industry’s voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban in football is completely ineffective, as it applies only to TV adverts. Over two thirds of fans who responded to a Survation poll said they felt it had not prevented children from seeing gambling advertisements in football. With insufficient regulation, football is often the hook to get the young into gambling, especially as they are then cross-sold highly addictive online casino products.

It is important to recognise that not just fans are impacted. We have seen the impact on players in recovery who are made to advertise the addictive products, including Ivan Toney, Sandro Tonali and Harry Toffolo. Football is so important to our communities, creating a shared identity that ties us together with a common objective, mostly just three points at the weekend, possibly six for Luton this weekend, but also seeing our team represent us with dignity. That is why I am proud of my local football club, Luton Town, for leading the way, by refusing to choose a gambling shirt and stadium sponsor. Across the premier league and the English football league, only Luton Town’s 19 home games will not feature gambling adverts, according to The Big Step. That is only 0.8% of games. It is disappointing that seven premier league clubs will still display gambling companies as their main shirt sponsor. Luton Town is part of The Big Step campaign to kick all gambling advertisements out of football, alongside other clubs such as Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green Rovers. Sadly, not all football clubs can be relied on to do the right thing, even though we know that a sponsorship ban would cost clubs only around 2.5% of revenue.

What measures are the Government considering to curtail gambling advertising in sport, especially in football? I reiterate the point already made, that this is a public health issue. Just like measures to reduce advertising of cigarettes to tackle smoking harms, would the Minister consider, as a first step, a review into banning pitch-side advertising in football, to reduce gambling harm? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:49, 13 March 2024

I congratulate Ronnie Cowan on leading the debate and speaking so diligently on these issues, as he has in the Chamber and Westminster Hall. He deserves credit and congratulations for that. He has been vocal on the issue and I thank him for that. It is such an important issue for the betterment of so many across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I too have been a supporter of further tightening gambling laws, especially within sport, given the potential dangers for young people and vulnerable adults. It is therefore great to be here to support the matter and give the hon. Gentleman credit for the debate and support his asks of the Minister. I am pleased to see the two shadow Ministers in their place. I look forward to their contribution and to others as well.

As I always do, I want to give a perspective from back home. That is good to do because unfortunately, for us back home, gambling has a bigger percentage impact on people than on the mainland. That is terribly worrying. In December 2023, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland stated that in its most recent survey, it was discovered that in Northern Ireland some 2.3% of the population was identified as having a gambling problem. That is more than four times higher than the percentage recorded on the GB mainland right here. That worries me incredibly and it reflects my contact with some of my constituents on the issue as well. That is why what the hon. Member for Inverclyde is bringing to the fore is important and he deserves credit for that.

The impact that gambling has on young people is incredible. Whether they see that through social media, ads on TV or even live at football games, the encouragement is there for them to feel the need to partake and participate. I commend the football club of Rachel Hopkins, Luton Town. I know of it because I have been reading about it in the paper—and the team’s manager was on TV this morning as well. It is really good to see the club leading the way. I just wish other teams, including my own, would be as diligent in the matter.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has revealed that three in 10, or 30%, of under-18s took part in some form of gambling in the last 12 months. That is a worrying trend, with young boys being more likely to partake. Of those, 15% of children said that they were encouraged to do so by the adverts they had seen on TV while watching football matches. We should never think that watching matches and the advertisements that viewers see do not have an impact. Those figures state it clearly and that influence once again underlines the issue we have before us today.

There was some movement in 2022 whereby footballers, celebrities and social media influencers were to be banned from participating in gambling adverts. There is no doubt in my head that watching those people encourages young people to find a way to gamble. Seeing their sporting heroes, such as ex-footballers, ex-football managers and so on promote gambling does not, in my humble opinion, do much for the cause of protecting young people against the dangers of gambling. It is also great that that applies not only to sporting events but to online gaming advertisements.

I have met and spoken with many families in the past who have sadly lost their children due to the impact of online gambling. Many have rightfully made the point that young people are taught about the dangers of excessive drinking, drug use, smoking, road safety and sextortion online, but they are not taught nearly as much about the dangers of gambling and betting. They should be, because the dangers are just as real. Issues can start small, from something as simple as playing a card game with friends, but the addictive nature of gambling makes the risk of winning addictive, and that is harming so many young and adult lives.

Gambling, along with alcohol consumption, smoking and so on, is one of the things in life that most people will be inclined to try, and just by the very nature of the society that I was brought up and lived in, it was the norm for the weekends and a Saturday afternoon. Yet I believe we have a responsibility to raise awareness of the dangers of gambling that come with misuse, especially for young people out there who are not aware of the long-term damage that can be caused.

I am therefore pleased that some of the correct steps have been taken, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. He always encapsulates well our desires for change and for highlighting these issues, so I look forward to his comments. Some of the steps taken to combat this include regulating ads on social media and restricting betting company ads on TV to certain times, but there is much more work to be done on this matter.

To conclude, there are some fantastic support services out there for people who feel that their gambling is becoming or getting out of control. I urge people to take advantage of all these services for the sake of their own health and wellbeing. This debate is twofold: it is about reducing the impact of advertising in sport, but it is also about helping those people who have those problems to try to beat their addiction. If we can do that through this debate—even if it is a step in the right direction—the hon. Member for Inverclyde deserves credit and is to be commended for it. Others who make contributions will endorse that.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 2:55, 13 March 2024

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate with you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. I think it is the first time in 14 years that I have been called after Jim Shannon, but I am delighted to have been, because he made a fine speech. I also congratulate Ronnie Cowan on securing the debate and on how he introduced it. I also congratulate Sir Iain Duncan Smith on struggling through against illness to make the case, which I know he feels passionately about.

It is certainly timely that we debate this issue now, in the context of the gambling reform that is following on from the White Paper. It is important, because we need to look at the context in which we saw the White Paper and in which we are having this debate, which is the increasing level of gambling addiction. I am a Sheffield United season ticket holder. It is not easy. [Interruption.] I have to say to the hon. Member for Inverclyde that there are not many moments of joy at Bramall Lane at the moment. I have watched them for 61 years now, but over the past couple of decades I have seen the increasing dominance of gambling advertising throughout the game, and that is not simply when we are having one of our fleeting moments in the premier league. I am conscious that that is only the tip of an iceberg in terms of the online promotion of gambling.

Over that same period, I have seen the increase in gambling harm. Jack Ritchie, my constituent, of whom many people here know, was also a passionate Sheffield United fan, but he took his own life due to gambling addiction—one of an estimated 400 each year, according to Public Health England. A survey by YouGov found up to 1.44 million adults in the UK harmed directly by gambling. The NHS is picking up the pieces, setting up specialist gambling addiction clinics across the country. Last year, the NHS announced seven new clinics, with one opening in Sheffield this month.

What we are dealing with is recognised by the Government and the NHS as a health issue, and what do we do with other health problems? We treat them, but we also have prevention strategies. The Government’s White Paper provides a strong prevention strategy and, like the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I commend them on it. There is much in there that takes us significantly forward, but it sidesteps one important point, which is advertising and how betting ads flood our sports—football in particular.

Others have pointed out the estimate that 3,500 betting logos are visible during a single televised premier league match; that is extraordinary. That is a gambling logo every 16 seconds during the average game. According to calculations from Gambling with Lives, which my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins mentioned, out of 2,370 premier league and English football league games this season, only 19 will not feature gambling ads. I join others in commending Luton, and I hope that they might, along with Sheffield United, escape relegation.

I mentioned harm to adults, but the hon. Member for Strangford and others were right to also focus on the harm to young people. That should worry us even more. According to the Gambling Commission, 80,000 UK children are addicted to gambling or at risk of gambling addiction. The commission says that 40% of 11 to 17-year-olds have engaged in some form of gambling over the last 12 months, which is a higher proportion than those who participated in other risk-taking activities, with 20% vaping, 9% having smoked a cigarette, and 8% having taken illegal drugs. On all of those other high-risk activities we take action, and we certainly do not advertise those products.

The 2023 study by Sheffield and Glasgow universities found that the more people are exposed to betting advertising, the more likely they are to gamble—that should not be a surprise; it is what the gambling industry spends all that money for—and that increases the risk of developing an addiction. We know that children and young people are most likely to be affected. According to a study from the University of Bristol, gambling ads are almost four times—I think it is 3.9 times—more appealing to children and young people than they are to adults. They say that 11 out of 12 gambling content marketing ads triggered positive responses in children and young people, compared with only seven out of 12 for adults. The Gambling Commission reports that most gambling exposure for children is when watching TV, primarily sport, or being at a sports event.

It is not just an issue for campaigners; fans themselves want more to be done. A study by Survation found that a third of football fans are less likely to buy a shirt with gambling sponsors on it, and 58% think that too many clubs are sponsored by gambling companies. Everton and Aston Villa fans have already shown that shirts without betting sponsors are more popular. When, at the end of the 2019-20 season, Everton and Villa ditched their gambling sponsors, shirt sales rose by 60% and 50% respectively.

Others have touched on self-regulation, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green in particular, and some cite action by the Premier League, but that is not working. Football has had every chance to address gambling advertising. Premier league clubs voted to ban sponsorship deals with betting companies from 2026-27, but the ban does not include bans on shirt sleeves, pitch-side hoardings or other sites around the stadium. That is significant, considering that only 7% of the 3,500 logos are visible on the front of the shirt. Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South pointed out, the industry’s voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban is completely ineffective. Research produced by the University of Bristol’s hub for gambling harms showed that football matches remain saturated by gambling messaging, and that over two thirds of fans feel that children are not prevented from seeing gambling ads at football.

Action must come from the Government, and indeed the Government in waiting. The Government publicly stated recently that online slots are one of the most addictive products. That is correct, but they still allow them to be promoted through football. The White Paper proposed gambling ad-free family areas in football grounds, but one year on nothing has been done. More matches are set to be screened every week from next season. It is clear that without Government intervention, more people, and particularly more children and young people, are going to be at risk of gambling harm.

The industry is running out of arguments to defend gambling advertising in sport. I am surprised that no Members are here to make this point—perhaps they are at Cheltenham—but we can anticipate, and we are already seeing, the industry pushing sports bodies and sports fans to press the case that their sport depends on the revenue that they get from advertising. That is an argument from scoundrels, and we have heard it all before. Big tobacco said the same about the importance of cigarette advertising in protecting individual sports, but we know that they were trying to limit damage to their reputation by association with sport. As we took action on cigarette advertising, so should we take action on gambling advertising. The industry will say, “Well, it’s not the premiership. It’s lower levels and it’s grassroot sport—the money is needed to sustain football.” Let us be clear: there is plenty of money in football. It is not distributed very well—we need more effective governance, and more of the money at the top to be shared right down the tiers of football—but football and other sports do not depend on the money from advertising.

I urge the Government to heed the wealth of evidence of the need for regulatory action and to deploy a precautionary approach, as with fixed odds betting terminals. Without action, the Department risks undermining the good progress that can be made from the White Paper. As the hon. Member for Inverclyde pointed out, sport is so important. It is hugely important to children and young people, and it is a force for so much good. We cannot let it be used anymore by the gambling industry for so much harm. Let us end advertising and sponsorship in sport without delay.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 3:06, 13 March 2024

This has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan on securing it and starting us off in his own style—it is always fun to sum up his speeches. He questioned whether some of the Conservative Members might be at Cheltenham, present company clearly excluded. He spoke about puppy dogs and toilet roll, and then got to free bets, but he was absolutely right. He also mentioned the hypocrisy—I would not say “rank” hypocrisy—from MPs who seek to advertise. He mentioned that he will be seeking to encourage folk to vote “Cowan” and vote SNP. Hopefully, that will be made easier by the fact that he is stealing a significant chunk of my constituency at the next election, so there are some SNP voters waiting there for him.

My hon. Friend made a good point about the consent of spectators and viewers. Those images and adverts are everywhere; not everyone wants to see them, but they are in their face regardless. He then spoke about all the moments in sporting history when we were not subject to such adverts. I can understand Torvill and Dean, the battles between Coe and Ovett, and of course Andy Murray, but I found Ian Botham to be a stretch too far. That is at least two Tories that a younger Mr Cowan idolised, and I am not sure that will go down well. [Laughter.]

I am being a bit flippant about the very serious issue that lies beneath today’s debate: problem gambling and how we end it. I remember very well when, I think in the first year that I had been elected, a chap came along to my constituency surgery in Linwood. He was there for the whole surgery, essentially 45 minutes, talking to me about his story, his gambling past and how he had been at death’s door; he had ruined his life, ruined his family, and so on. He had been offered no real assistance in trying to stop, certainly nothing from the gambling industry, and he was looking to try to help others from going down the same path. Fixed odds betting terminals were certainly part of his path, and we have legislated on those, but it progressed into all sorts of different forms of gambling. He manged to turn his life around, but that is not the norm.

The former Conservative leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the quiet man who once said he was turning up the volume, turned it down today, due to his voice trouble. I was going to say that he had my sympathy, but he is a Spurs season ticket holder, so things are looking up—I will come on to Paul Blomfield in a minute! The right hon. Gentleman made a very good point about subliminal messaging through advertising that says, “If you gamble just a bit more, then you’ll win.” All of us have probably been suckered into something at some point or another, whether it is gambling, a purchase, or something else, by of subliminal advertising. He mentioned that there was a reference to gambling every 21 seconds in premier league matches, but I think the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said it was every 16 seconds. I do not know whether those are conflicting figures or I just misheard, but either way, it is a significant number; I just wanted to recognise that there were two figures there for Hansard.

Rachel Hopkins mentioned that she might put a bet on the grand national, and that her partner puts on an acca on occasion. That makes me think back to my younger days and how much gambling used to play a part in my pre-rugby rituals. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde, I used to play rugby, and my friends and I would meet on a Saturday morning and “put lines on”, as we said —that would be called an acca now. Then we would go and play pool, at which we invariably gambled a bit against each other, and then go downstairs to play the puggies, which is a term for fruit machines in western Scotland. I had not given that any thought until the hon. Member for Luton South said that. I very rarely do any gambling these days, but in my younger days, we thought nothing of gambling as a matter of course. For the benefit of Hansard, the hon. Lady is pointing to her phone, and she is absolutely right that it is so much easier to access the internet on phones these days as well. She also said that two thirds of fans said that the voluntary regs have not prevented children from being able to access or see TV advertising, and I think we all see that. She mentioned Luton Town, one of the very few teams in sport to ban gambling from not just its shops, but its stadium, which is to be commended.

Yesterday morning, I said that Westminster Hall should be named in the honour of Jim Shannon, because he is always here and always puts in a shift. He praised Luton Town, and said that all teams should perhaps reflect on its gambling ban, including his own. He neglected to mention which team that was, but we might hazard a guess. One of his better points—or best points; better points sounds as if he did not make any good points, and he made some excellent ones—was on the fact that we teach our young people and young adults about excessive drinking, smoking, excessive speed in cars, and so on, but we do not seem to talk about gambling as much, which we should.

The hon. Member for Sheffield Central noted that this was the first time he had been called after the hon. Member for Strangford in all the time he had been here. If it had been anybody else, that might have sounded like a moan or a challenge to the Chair, but having worked with the hon. Member for Sheffield Central a few years ago, I know it certainly was not that. He mentioned that he was a Sheffield United season ticket holder. I have to say that I do not think they have troubles to seek this season in a footballing sense, but as a St Johnstone fan, I share his frustrations, given that St Johnstone is near the lower end of the table for the moment. He also mentioned the study by the Universities of Sheffield and Glasgow, and their findings that the more people are exposed to advertising, the more likely they are to gamble, and the more likely people are to gamble, the more likely they are to fall into problem gambling, seem obvious. He also mentioned big tobacco. It fought advertising bans, and so on, but a lot that we have done about smoking has paid dividends. If we put in the work on gambling, we can see dividends there as well.

It is fairly clear that gambling regulations must protect vulnerable people from harms, regardless of where they are exposed to gambling adverts. The time has beyond passed for action to tackle the shocking rise in gambling advertising. The Government have been praised for the work they have done in some areas hitherto, but we need to look pretty sharpish at their failure to address this problem, because advertising revenue has grown massively since the passage of the Gambling Act 2005. The National Audit Office estimated that there was a 56% increase in advertising spend by gambling operators between 2014 and 2017, driven primarily by online and social media advertising. If that was the proportion in 2017, goodness knows where it is now.

The Government’s White Paper on gambling is obviously to be welcomed. Its proposals include tougher restrictions on bonuses and direct marketing; making advertising smarter and safer; a new approach to safer gambling messaging; and socially responsible sport sponsorship—which is one of the main issues we are here to talk about. The Premier League has announced that front-of-shirt advertising for gambling is to end by the end of 2025-26 season, but the Culture, Media and Sport Committee said, as we have discussed, that:

“The withdrawal of gambling sponsorship from the front of Premier League players’ kit is welcome, but it will not significantly reduce the volume of gambling adverts visible during top-flight matches.”

It is pretty clear that there is a need for the Government to regulate gambling advertising, and we need to have a comprehensive conversation about how, if at all, gambling adverts should be allowed. Ultimately, this is a policy debate about the reduction of harms, and what is the point of us being here if we are not going to try to reduce harms for all of our constituents? We call on the Government to actively consider legislating to restrict the amount of advertising that gambling firms can procure in public broadcasting and sporting events.

The only slight caveat—not to that previous point, but in general terms—was to something that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said. He said that there is absolutely no need for this form of advertising in principle—I agree 100%—and that there is enough money in football so football does not need that money. The only slight caveat I have, having met Scottish clubs and umbrella bodies, is that the Scottish game is not awash with the same level of money as the game in England. Advertising revenue is much harder to come by in Scotland, with it being a much smaller market in comparison with England, so restrictions could cause problems. That does not mean we should not address and tackle this issue, but we should put on the record that it is not as straightforward in Scotland, Wales and so on as it perhaps is south of the border.

In 2018-19, gambling companies yielded more than £11 billion, which raised about £3 billion for the Government in gambling duties. The industry has been transformed by social and technological changes, and licensed gambling has grown by 57% in real terms in the last decade. But British gamblers lose £14 billion a year, according to the Gambling Commission, and Britain is home to the world’s largest regulated online betting market, with £14.2 billion in profits each year. Other countries, such as Germany, have introduced limits on how much customers can deposit. In our view, the 2005 Act must be modernised and made effective for the digital age, to provide adequate protection against gambling-related harms for problem gamblers and children.

To conclude, for problem gamblers the impact of gambling can be harmful and massively addictive. We have heard already that more than one person a day commits suicide in the UK because of gambling-related harms. Sadly, as we heard, that includes Jack Ritchie, who lived in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central. Two million families are blighted by problem gambling, and more than 55,000 children between the ages of 11 and 16 are addicted to it. Those are pretty shocking statistics.

I will finish with this: according to a YouGov survey of 18,000 people, commissioned by GambleAware, gambling addiction rates may be nine times higher than the betting industry claims. GambleAware estimates that 1.4 million people are being harmed by their own gambling, with a further 1.5 million at risk. Although this debate’s attendance has not been as good as it perhaps should have been, we have had five Back Bench speeches, and now one Front-Bench speech, all speaking with one voice on this issue. It is time for the Government to act, or indeed for a new incoming Government to do so, if one is elected at the end of the year.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:19, 13 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank Ronnie Cowan for securing this important debate. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The relationship between gambling and most sports is complex and, in many ways, symbiotic. However, given the growing knowledge of the impact of gambling harms on people’s lives, many have raised concerns about that connection. They worry that football and other sports might be playing a role in exposing vulnerable fans, sportspeople and, in particular, children and young people to the gambling market. Having met some of those receiving treatment for gambling addiction and families bereaved by gambling-related loss, I have seen the devastating effect that gambling can have on people’s lives.

In 2020, it was estimated that 7% of the population, including adults and children, were negatively affected by someone else’s gambling. That is even more concerning in a modernised world in which most people have the ability to gamble anywhere, at any time, on their phones. I am therefore pleased that the Government are finally under way with the implementation stage of the long-awaited gambling White Paper, which looks to make our gambling regulation fit for the modern digital era. Indeed, it has cross-party support, as Sir Iain Duncan Smith and my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield outlined.

The White Paper was, though, relatively light-touch on the issues that relate to gambling advertising in sport. It identified sports governing bodies as best placed to drive up standards regarding their gambling sponsorship deals. That is not to say that no action has been taken in this area: outside the White Paper, regulators, the industry and sports have made progress to increase protections. Last week, I met the Advertising Standards Authority, which told me about its work to regulate gambling advertising, particularly with a view to protecting children and young people, including the “strong appeal” test.

The gambling industry has signed up to a voluntary code of socially responsible advertising, which bans gambling adverts before 9 o’clock. The most recent version covers most live sport from five minutes before it starts to five minutes after it has ended. That is known as the whistle-to-whistle ban, and it has reduced the number of TV betting commercials viewed by children during live sporting events before the watershed by 97%. The Premier League has also announced that front-of-shirt gambling sponsors will be withdrawn from the start of the season in 2026.

However, those measures have received their fair share of criticism. Viewers are still exposed to a high number of gambling adverts and logos during sporting events, as my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins highlighted. That happens through a number of visuals, from hoardings and perimeter boards to players’ kits. Indeed, the Premier League’s commitment does not cover sponsorship on the sleeves and backs of shirts, and is not yet enforced.

As already discussed, the revenue from gambling sponsorship is crucial to some sports. However, the prevalence of such adverts poses a particular issue for children and those vulnerable to problem gambling as they are difficult to avoid, as Jim Shannon said. As with the online space and direct marketing, it is not possible to opt out of such adverts. That makes it hard for those with personal experience of problem gambling to follow the sports they previously enjoyed, and it is hard for parents to know the best way to protect their children from harm.

In that context, we need the sports sponsorship code of conduct to be published. That code, required by the Government’s White Paper and led by sports governing bodies, would recognise that the relationship between gambling and sports needs to be conducted responsibly in order to prevent gambling harm in both sportspeople and sports fans. I understand that it will be based on the principles of reinvestment, sporting integrity, protecting children and vulnerable people and socially responsible promotion. In practice, it could include things such as a requirement that replica kits be available without gambling logos, a commitment to reinvest sponsorship funds into grassroot activities, the use of sponsorship to promote safer gambling messages and the protection of those in family areas in stadiums from being able to see gambling advertising.

I understand that as part of the development process there will initially be one main code to cover all sporting bodies, and after that each governing body will be able to develop a short sport-specific code, whether it be for racing, cricket, football or others. However, there has been no sign of the main code, let alone the sport-specific commitments. I therefore ask the Minister whether he will call on the governing bodies to publish the codes without further delay, perhaps in time for the first anniversary of the White Paper. That is something that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended in its report published last year, to which the Government have yet to respond. That is a concern, because without the code the White Paper seems to hardly address the relationship between gambling and sport. It is only through a combination of measures, from giving the Gambling Commission powers to crack down on the black market to restricting bonus and free bet offers, that we will bring our regulation into the modern age and better protect people from harm.

There is no question but that gambling advertising on the whole has increased in the past two decades. The impact of gambling harms could be better understood and researched. That is one reason why I would like to see the statutory levy for gambling get under way soon, so that levy funds can be used to conduct the research needed to aid effective prevention and treatment methods going forward. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister provided an update on the levy consultation and when the Government might expect to publish a response.

To conclude, I hear the concerns about the impact of gambling advertising in sport on children and young people, as well as those vulnerable to harm. Given the reliance of many sports on gambling sponsorship for revenue, it is crucial that the governing bodies reflect on that relationship and issue their code of conduct as soon as possible. I hope the Minister will reaffirm his commitment to ensuring that the code is published, and to the implementation of the White Paper more broadly.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. Before I call the Minister, I note that the hon. Lady began her speech by referring to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but she did not expand on that at all. People who are following this debate, and others like it, need to be informed about the nature of those interests; would the hon. Lady like to spell out them out?

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I have previously taken hospitality from the gambling industry. I would have to check the dates to say specifically which body it was, but I am happy to inform the House at a later date if needed.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to the hon. Lady.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities) 3:26, 13 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank Ronnie Cowan for securing this important debate. His SNP colleague, Gavin Newlands, complained that his hon. Friend is pinching part of his constituency; as someone whose entire constituency is to be abolished, I certainly have some sympathy.

In all seriousness, it is important that we are having this debate, which raises the issue at a crucial moment in the Government’s commitment to tackling gambling harms. I thank all those who have contributed for their thoughtful comments. It has been valuable for me to hear the range of perspectives. Indeed, in my time as the gambling Minister I have welcomed the constructive engagement we have had, because I am keen to hear from all sides. I recognise that many people gamble safely, but equally I am always mindful of the families—I think we have all met them—who have gone through some of the most unimaginable pain.

The Government recognise the concerns that many have raised about the presence and impact of gambling advertising in general, and particularly in sport. Gambling advertising clearly remains an issue of vibrant debate, and rightly so. Colleagues have raised it with me directly and in the media since I took on the gambling brief just over a year ago. The debate on advertising encapsulates the balance we are aiming to strike on gambling regulation. We are looking at regulating an innovative and responsible gambling industry on the one hand, and at the duty of the Government to protect children and the wider public from gambling-related harm on the other.

As colleagues have mentioned, developments in technology have undoubtedly led to rapid changes in the gambling landscape. The smartphone era comes with risks and opportunities, so we need to strike the balance between freedom and protection. That is why we committed to a root-and-branch review of gambling legislation. We took an exhaustive look at the best available evidence, including on advertising, as part of our Gambling Act review. The White Paper that we published in April last year captures our vision for the sector, with a robust package of reforms aiming to mitigate the risks of gambling-related harm and seize the opportunities to prevent it as early as possible.

It has been said that we sidestepped the issue of advertising. I think that is slightly unfair. The evidence-led action on advertising forms an important part of that vision. The liberalisation of gambling advertising was one of the major changes introduced in the Gambling Act 2005, and we have undoubtedly witnessed the continual growth of gambling marketing since then. However, it is important to note that we have not seen an increase in gambling participation rates or population gambling harm rates over the same timeframe. Those have remained broadly the same. None the less, I recognise that a parallel change has been the increasingly visible integration of gambling advertising with sport. That is especially relevant to me as the Minister responsible for sport, alongside civil society.

In our Gambling Act review, we considered evidence that gambling brands provided 12% of sport sponsorship revenue. Gambling brands are most strongly present in top-tier football, as has been mentioned, where eight out of 20 premier league teams this season have front-of-shirt gambling sponsors. In fact, gambling sponsors contribute around £45 million a year across the English Football League’s three leagues, and a significantly higher proportion of revenue in the Scottish football leagues, as the hon. Member for Inverclyde mentioned. Gambling sponsorship also represents a significant source of income for sports other than football, with around £80 million in sponsorship revenue.

We know that sponsorship by gambling firms can have a level of impact on gambling behaviour. The Gambling Commission’s consumer journey research shows that seeing sponsorship is a “passive influence” on gambling behaviour, although it is far less influential than winning a significant amount of money or hearing about someone else’s big win. The evidence to date therefore shows that while gambling advertising around sport is widely noticed, it has a background effect when it comes to having an impact on gambling behaviour.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

I accept that the Minister is making an argument with integrity, but if advertising has such a marginal impact, why does he think the gambling industry spends so much on it?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

We have had this discussion before. One of the reasons that our White Paper has landed as well as it could do in a challenging policy area is that it has been developed through use of the very best evidence. I will come on to that point later, because I think there is further work to be done in this field.

The industry’s whistle-to-whistle ban has cut the number of pre-9 pm betting adverts to around a quarter of their previous level, as Stephanie Peacock mentioned, and further cut the average number of sports betting adverts seen by children to just 0.3 per week. None the less, we also know that gambling sponsorship is one of the main ways children are exposed to gambling, and that gambling marketing can have a disproportionate impact on those already experiencing gambling harm. That is why the advertising rules have been strengthened since October 2022. Content that has a strong appeal for children, such as that involving top-flight footballers, and that creates a sense of urgency to gamble is banned from appearing in gambling adverts. This measure further protects children and vulnerable adults.

Following on from the gambling White Paper, we are in the process of implementing a comprehensive suite of protections, ranging from action on advertising, products and the way that gambling is provided to prevent gambling-related harms. In line with existing gambling advertising rules, as has already been mentioned, the Premier League’s decision to ban front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling firms will commence by the end of the 2025-26 season.

I can also confirm that a cross-sport code of conduct for gambling sponsorship has been agreed by a number of the country’s major sports governing bodies, from the Premier League and the English Football League to the British Horseracing Authority, the England and Wales Cricket Board and others. Indeed, the Rugby Football League sought to build in the code’s provisions as part of its renewed agreement with Betfred. This landmark code fulfils a key commitment from the White Paper ahead of schedule, and will bind all domestic sports governing bodies to four core principles. First, all sports will ensure socially responsible promotion. Education and awareness will form a key part of all sports’ marketing activities, including in stadiums.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde

The Minister has just acknowledged the need to build education support. Will he acknowledge the fact of the potential damage that has been done by this product in the first place? The gambling industry cannot have it both ways; these companies are causing the damage and at the same time painting themselves as the good guys because they are helping to support people out of addiction. They cannot own both organisations.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

As I said, I will come on to further research that I feel we need to do, but I want also to emphasise that we are trying to do a considerable amount of work here as part of the wider White Paper reforms. In essence, we are trying to deal with 15 years of digital progress, which is quite significant.

At this point, I want to pay tribute to all the team over at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They are working extremely hard to meet the commitment we made to get the majority of the code done by the summer of this year, recognising that its implementation will have the greatest impact on tackling gambling harm.

The second core principle is the protection of children and vulnerable people. Sponsorship has to be designed to limit reach to children and those at risk of gambling harm, and this will see adult replica kits, as was mentioned, available without the front-of-shirt gambling logo.

The third principle is one of reinvestment into sport. The commercial income raised from gambling sponsorship will provide grassroots services that genuinely serve fans and communities.

Finally, the code will ensure that gambling sponsorship maintains sport integrity. Sponsorship arrangements will build in appropriate requirements that they do not compromise the integrity of sporting competitions nor harm the welfare of participants. Together, those principles will establish a robust minimum standard for gambling sports sponsorship across all sports.

Of course, commercial arrangements and fan-bases differ across the industry, and that is why individual sports governing bodies will also introduce bespoke arrangements to fulfil these principles in a way that is tailored to maximise their impact. Some sports, including football, intend to have their arrangements in place as early as this year ahead of the next season. Ultimately, this will guarantee that, where gambling sponsorship does appear, it is done in a responsible way and that fans, especially children, are better protected.

There is no single intervention that effectively prevents gambling-related harm, and that is why we have taken an evidence-led approach to implement a package of reforms targeted at different levels, including advertising. We absolutely recognise that advertising can have a disproportionate impact on those experiencing gambling harms. Technological advances and developments and the increasing dominance of online gambling have necessitated a doubling of efforts from us as a Government. We and the Gambling Commission are now taking targeted action to ban harmful practices and to ensure that advertising remains socially responsible wherever it appears.

The commission has recently consulted on strengthened protections to ensure that free bets and bonuses are constructed in a way that does not encourage excessive or harmful gambling, and that is in conjunction with new rules to give consumers more control over the direct gambling marketing they wish to receive. Together, the measures will empower customers and prohibit harmful marketing practices to further prevent the risk of gambling harms. The commission will set out its response to the consultation in due course.

Our holistic approach also includes action on the products themselves. We recently announced the introduction of stake limits in online slot games, as was mentioned, where we have seen evidence of elevated levels of harmful gambling. But we are also pursuing broader protections, such as financial risk checks and further strengthening restrictions on game design. I am clear that effective and innovative collaboration to get the right mix of interventions for the population as a whole and those with specific needs is required to tackle this issue.

Evidence has been a key theme in this debate, and I want to end in recognising that further work is needed in this area. A concerted effort to build the evidence base to ensure policy and regulation are able to deal with the emerging issues is paramount, and the Gambling Commission’s important work on the gambling survey for Great Britain aligns with this priority. The survey will in time provide us with a better picture of gambling behaviour and the nature of gambling-related harm.

However, developing quality evidence is also a key priority for the Government’s statutory levy. Increased and ring-fenced funding will be directed towards high-quality, independent research into gambling and gambling-related harms, including on advertising. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear at the launch of the White Paper, if new evidence suggests that we need to go further, we will look at this again.

I again thank the hon. Member for Inverclyde for securing this important debate and all the Members who made valuable contributions. I am committed to tackling gambling-related harms and I am confident that the action we are taking will have a real impact in reducing those harms across the country. The new levy will provide us with even more evidence. As I have already committed, if further action is needed we will look at it again.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 3:40, 13 March 2024

I thank everybody who has taken the time and effort to be here today and spoken so well, and I thank the Minister for being here. I understand the hard work that staff are putting into resolving the gambling issues that we have. We all have constituents that are damaged and families that have been torn apart. I am sure that in some cases individuals have committed suicide because of their gambling addiction. It is not always obvious because gambling addiction tends to be a hidden addiction.

I did the Big Step and Gambling with Lives walk—I have done it a number of times. The last time one of the guys came up to me during the walk and said, “If I was an alcoholic and my local landlord came to my door at night and said, ‘Have a case of beer, have a bottle of whisky, have a bottle of gin’, people would think that behaviour reprehensible. I am a recovering gambling addict and people still send me adverts saying, “Do you want a free bet? Do you want five bets on this?” It is exactly the same thing.

I thank all the organisations and individuals that have helped me gain a better understanding of the situation, none more so than Martin Paterson. As a recovering gambling addict, he sent me a message today. He said,

“Can I add, as a person in recovery like millions of others over the years the ads are triggering so many back into the hole of gambling addiction.”

Martin, stay strong. We will keep up the fight.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered gambling advertising in sport.

Sitting suspended.