Gambling Advertising - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords am 2:17 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee 2:17, 25 Ebrill 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship on problem gambling, and in particular the risk posed by the exposure of children to gambling advertising.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords, including the Minister, who are taking part in this debate. I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform, which was set up to press for the implementation of the recommendations made by the Lords committee on gambling. I am delighted that very many of those recommendations, either in whole or in part, were included in the Government’s White Paper. However, except for the Gambling Commission taking a closer look at bonus offers such as free bets and spins, and the Premier League’s voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling logos, the White Paper proposes very little action in respect of gambling advertising.

The Gambling Act 2005 liberalised gambling advertising, and now on Twitter/X alone there are 1 million UK gambling ads a year. Gambling companies’ annual spend on marketing now exceeds £1.5 billion. As the Lords committee noted, companies would not spend so much if it did not work, leading to more gambling and greater risk of harm. Yet very little action is proposed. Surely any Government should have been worried to read just this weekend in the Observer, under the headline “UK children bombarded by gambling ads and images online”:

“Young people feel their internet activity is overwhelmed by betting promotions and similar content”.

If the Government are not worried, other people certainly are. Opinion polls show that the vast majority of the public want a clamp-down on gambling advertising, including Conservative supporters. A very recent opinion poll found that 77% of Conservative councillors agree that tighter restrictions on gambling advertising would reduce gambling-related harm. With the Government doing very little, others are taking action. In March, Sheffield City Council joined over 80 other English councils in restricting gambling advertising on land, buildings, vehicles and even bus stops, websites and newspapers they own. The Mayor of London says that he intends to end gambling ads across public transport in the city. I hope he gets on with it quickly, as one gambling operator is currently advertising that TfL tube and train carriages are now casinos, with bus-stop ads saying: “Your bus is now a casino”. In sport, the absence of government action has led 35 football clubs to decide to go it alone and join the Big Step’s campaign to end gambling advertising in football. Can the Minister explain why the Government are so out of step with all these voices and seemingly so in step with the gambling industry?

I suspect public concern is about to rise because, in July, the Gambling Commission will release new figures about gambling harm. The Gambling Minister in the other place has already indicated that they are likely to show that 1.3 million people will classify as “problem gamblers” and that a further 6 million are at risk. If confirmed, these figures are far higher than those used to inform the Government’s work on their White Paper. This is a real cause for concern, further strengthening the call for action.

If public opinion does not persuade the Government, there are many other justifications for action, including research evidence. When he responds, I suspect the Minister may be somewhat dismissive of the research and claim—as the White Paper does—that it does not show a causal link between advertising and gambling harm. I am prepared to accept that this is largely true, but it does not mean that the research evidence does not support the case for greater action. Academics are clear that, in social science research, causal links are rarely even possible, but they are equally clear that the research findings justify a much tougher stance against gambling advertising. Some 50 academics recently called for “badly needed” restrictions on the promotion of gambling products. They drew attention especially to the unprecedented numbers of young people being exposed to gambling ads via the internet and television, and concluded that

“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”.

Reviewing the evidence, the Advertising Standards Authority accepted that some studies were robust enough to support a link between advertising and gambling behaviour. The Government’s White Paper itself points to research showing that gambling advertising and marketing leads to people starting to gamble, to gamble more and to recommence gambling. With all this evidence, it is bizarre that the Government are not taking more action.

Unlike us, other countries do not seem to struggle with the evidence, despite having far less of it. Ipsos and researcher Dr Rossi have identified 496 published research papers about gambling marketing here, which is more than the combined number of similar ones in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain. Yet on their evidence they have chosen almost full bans on gambling advertising and sponsorship. Can the Minister explain why the UK Government’s assessment of our evidence is so different from neighbouring countries with similar research findings? Does the Minister really believe that there would be 1.3 million people classified as problem gamblers in the absence of gambling advertising?

Frankly, our Government seem confused. In one breath, they say that action is not justified because there is little causal evidence linking advertising to harm but, in another, without causal evidence, they welcome the removal of gambling logos on the front of football shirts as a harm-reduction policy. The Government’s position simply does not make sense.

The Government have accepted that gambling-related harm should be treated as a public health issue, so they should be adopting the precautionary principle and, on the huge weight of evidence, taking greater action. Yet, the Minister in the Commons said, on advertising causing harm, that,

“if new evidence suggests that we need to go further, we will look at this again

Can the Minister explain what more the Government need before they will act?

I believe that a public health approach to gambling should lead to significant curbs on advertising and a ban on direct marketing, an end to inducements such as so-called free bets, and the removal of gambling sponsorship in sport.

Time does not permit me to detail all that I think should be done. Noting that estimates suggest that as many as 60,000 children suffer gambling harm, I will end with just one area where I believe urgent action is needed: so-called content marketing, which a Guardian headline recently described as “‘Sneaky’ social media ads … luring young into gambling”. Just one example will suffice. A social media post with the heading, “When the barman asks if you want another one”, is followed by a photo of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp giving a thumbs-up. That is all there is to it.

This simple, humorous post was by Paddy Power, but there are literally hundreds of them, using cartoons and famous people, posted online by gambling companies all the time. In just one weekend, online gambling ads received 34 million views. Over half were content marketing. Research shows that such posts are particularly appealing to young people and that followers of gambling companies’ online posts are, disproportionately, young people.

Yet the voluntary code governing advertising says that advertisements should be clearly seen as such. I have met with the ASA, which oversees the code, and shown it numerous examples of content marketing that clearly breach the code. So I hope the Minister will agree that the time has come for a complete review of the code and its enforcement, including deciding whether self-regulation really is the right approach.

It is worrying that so many young people know the names of gambling companies, follow them online, think that gambling is part of growing up and see it as part of the enjoyment of sport. Gambling advertising encourages more people to gamble and to develop gambling harms. The figures are alarming, as are the consequences to individuals and our society. The threat to our children should be enough on its own to compel the Government to act. No primary legislation is required, as the Gambling Act 2005 gives the Secretary of State all the powers she needs to regulate gambling advertising as she sees fit. So my simple question is: will the Government get on and do something?

Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Ceidwadwyr 2:28, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for initiating this debate and pay tribute to his tenacious pursuit of this particular subject. He and I have worked together for quite some time and served on your Lordships’ Select Committee on gambling harm a few years ago. I declare my own interest as the CEO of the Association of Conservative Clubs. We have several hundred clubs throughout the UK, all of which have gaming machines, play bingo and have small-scale lotteries. I also declare my interest as the chairman of the National Conservative Draws Society, an established society lottery with an income or turnover in excess of £1 million each year.

We have been here before, speaking about gambling advertising and gambling harm, and we have talked before about how to protect children from the harm of advertising. I can recall discussing the subject of loot boxes back in 2016, and I am sure the subject will be mentioned again today. The latest game is “Fortnite”, whose loot boxes I say will be the next ones we will be talking about, in a few months or years to come.

I will today address not just the point that gambling advertising is too much; I think everybody here knows and agrees that we see far more gambling advertising now than we used to. If there is more gambling advertising, there will be more people who gamble. If there are more people who gamble, the 0.5% of people who suffer from gambling harm will increase, and the 0.9% of young people who suffer from gambling harm and have a gambling problem will also increase.

The point I will make today is not that gambling advertising is on the increase, and that more people gamble as a result. I will talk specifically about one area where we might be able to help: children who are suffering from gambling harm, having perhaps been exposed to too much gambling advertising. Problem gambling rises each year; advertising spend on gambling rises each year; and gambling among young people—that is, ages under 18; even under 11 years of age in some cases—is rising as well.

I read the Gambling Commission’s 2023 report on young people and their gambling behaviour, attitudes and awareness. It has an interesting section on young people gambling using a parent’s account. It said:

“Overall, young people were more likely to use their parent’s or guardian’s accounts for any type of online gambling with their permission (6 percent), rather than without (2 percent). When looking at specific gambling accounts, young people were more likely to have played National Lottery games online with their parent’s or guardian’s permission (5 percent), than without (2 percent). Similarly, young people were more likely to have played on gambling websites or placed bets online with their parent’s or guardian’s permission (5 percent) compared with those without (2 percent)”.

We can conclude, therefore, that some parents give permission for their children to gamble, and that it is possible for children to gamble without their parent’s or guardian’s permission, meaning that some young people were playing either via their own account or by hacking into a parent’s account.

Something has gone wrong here with security measures. It should not be possible for a young person to gamble under their own name and details, and it should not be right they do it under their parent’s or guardian’s accounts. I suggest it would be a good idea to mandate a two-factor identification process to be put in place on all online gambling sites, so that if a child is trying to gamble without their parents’ knowledge, their parents’ mobile phones could be notified. This process could deter the child by making it harder for them to get online. Secondly, could the industry do more to provide information and education about the dangers of gambling to children and parents alike?

In terms of how this relates to marketing and advertising, if gambling operators have not got the correct safety measures in place to protect children from accessing their products—and this includes the National Lottery—they should not be able to advertise their services, or even operate until their product can be shown to be safe. We would shut down a bar if under-18s were found to be systematically slipping through and purchasing alcohol undetected. I do not really see the difference here at all. That might be something to think about.

Perhaps we might also touch on the mixed messages we sometimes send about the sports personalities involved with the gambling industry; at the same time, we are just about to wave off our team to France for the Olympic Games, which is almost solely supported by gambling, through the National Lottery.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Llafur 2:33, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for initiating this debate, and for all the work and commitment he gives to tackling gambling harm. I too have interests to declare: I am a trustee of GambleAware, I work with the Behavioural Insights Team on its advisory group, and I am also involved with Peers for Gambling Reform.

When I grew up, I had virtually no knowledge or recognition that gambling happened. No child or young person today would be able to say that. Recently published research, commissioned by GambleAware, shows that children and young people described their online spaces as “saturated” with gambling content, which is being seen in their everyday activities, even if they are not looking at supposed gambling sites.

Gambling advertising and content from influencers and footballers were identified as a potential pathway to gambling and are experienced by young people. The bright, eye-catching nature of adverts draw children and young people in. A 14 year-old girl said:

“The ads … make it look like a really fun activity that has no consequence outside of using or winning some money”.

For far too many children and young people, gambling has become normalised. It is simply part of their life. If you ever go to a football match, as I do, you cannot escape the gambling adverts and the involvement of all the spectators in either taking notice or decidedly trying not to take notice of it. There is clear evidence now that this normalisation is a factor in people becoming addicted.

The impact on children and young people is stark. Recall of gambling adverts among 13 to 25 year-olds is positively associated with frequent gambling. Those with the greatest exposure to adverts are 2.3 times more likely to experience problem gambling later in their lives. Marketing is now almost four times more appealing to children and young people than it is to adults, so this is an issue that really hits children and young people.

What should the Government be doing? They certainly need tougher restrictions in sport. There needs to be a stadium and a shirt ban, and the Government should push sports organisations to publish the sports sponsorship code of conduct that they say have completed so that it can be scrutinised. The Government should ban pre-watershed advertising. The Australians, the Germans and the Irish have done this—why have we not done so? That would be another way of making sure that children and young people do not see quite as much advertising. Evidence-based safer gambling messaging and signposting from the operators should also be pushed by the Government. That is possible and available, and it will be available to the Government to push the operators to do that in the very near future.

This morning, we heard that more young people in this country drink, smoke and vape than in any other western country. We could add gambling to that. This is a very serious issue. As I have said, the evidence shows that the more exposure to those sorts of addictions as a child, the more likely addiction is to follow. Those addictions will blight the lives of these children and young people for the rest of their life. We cannot stand by and say that children should not be supported to avoid those terrible addictions. The Government have a responsibility and, quite honestly, they did not meet it in the White Paper. I hope that they will do so now.

Photo of Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Lord Trevethin and Oaksey Crossbench 2:39, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I apologise for my slightly late appearance in the Chamber.

I was also a member of the Select Committee which considered these issues, now a few years back. I am also a member of Peers for Gambling Reform, led by the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I pay tribute to his tireless work in seeking improvements to these problems. Like the noble Lord, I very much hope that, when the Minister responds, he will not be tempted to adopt the position that is to some extent taken in the White Paper, in which it was rather naively said that there is no hard evidence that gambling, advertising and marketing increase problem gambling. It is in the nature of things that conclusive evidence on that point is not available.

The following propositions are not in doubt. First, the gambling industry spends well over £1 billion a year on advertising and marketing in this country. It was more than £1.5 billion in 2017 and I would have a very large bet at very short odds that it is more now. Secondly, problem gamblers unquestionably provide a very substantial part of the profits made by the industry—see the committee’s report and plenty of other material. Thirdly, problem gamblers are more susceptible to gambling advertising than others—see the learned and impressive article published by the Public Health journal in February 2023. In all these circumstances, it is obviously correct to infer that the industry knows what it is spending its money on and why, that gambling advertising and marketing will increase gambling activity, and that a significant part of the increase will involve problem gambling. In short, one simply has to follow the money.

I have looked at some of the material helpfully circulated by the House of Lords Library. It contains a number of studies and papers that have been prepared in the last three or four years. I was particularly struck by one paper which I will mention in the time I have available. It was published by two academics at Bristol University, Rossi and Nairn, in 2021. Having considered evidence from 650 participants who were exposed to 24 gambling advertisements—and also, by way of a control, to other forms of non-gambling advertisements —it found that gambling advertising is

“significantly more appealing to children and young persons than to adults”.

It found that, in 2021, 45% of 11 to 17 year-olds saw gambling advertising on social media at least once a week, and about 25% saw it every day. That was three years ago. Use of, and to some extent addiction to, social media has not decreased since then.

There are various other findings which I do not have time to set out. One in particular struck me, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, spoke to this. There are many advertisements that relate to esports gambling. I doubt if many Members of this House engage in esports, let alone gamble on them. Esports are the professional, competitive playing of computer games online. To my surprise, I found that there is a huge amount of gambling on this. The authors of this report observed, correctly, that this is a development almost entirely under the radar of public discourse and policy-making. In so far as I can see, there is almost nothing in the White Paper about that.

The authors of the paper made various recommendations, in particular a ban on esports gambling advertising—because it is targeted at children and young persons—an expansion of the definition of a young person from 16 to 24, and enforced arrangements which would involve gambling advertisements being provided only when users confirmed that they recognised and wanted them. I do not have time to say more about the paper or the other available material but, as other speakers have emphasised, it all tends to suggest that there is a very real problem.

I have a question for the Minister. The Government are prepared to make unlawful the purchase of cigarettes for a significant segment of the population. Is there any good reason why they would not enforce an arrangement whereby gambling advertising would have to do what cigarette advertising used to do when it was permitted—namely, inform the potential user of the probable outcome, which is that he or she will lose money?

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 2:45, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey. His final suggestion was a pertinent and encouraging one. Like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for securing this debate and for all the work that he has done over many years on this issue. I declare my position as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform.

I shall begin, for a change, with some positive good news—this picks up something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster—which is the ban on various forms of advertising that has come into place in Sheffield following a decision by the council in March. This is a great demonstration that campaigning works and can make a difference. I know some of the people who have been campaigning for that in Sheffield over a significant period. It is also a demonstration of the public desire to have healthier environments and healthy societies, which is what indeed this public health measure does. It is a ban, within the limits of the power of Sheffield City Council, applying to authority-owned hoardings. As well as gambling and betting products it covers short-term loans, alcoholic drinks, fossil-fuel products, some breast and infant milk formulas and petrol, diesel and hybrid plug-in vehicles. We can see the focus there on health. An important point to make is that, as the director of public health in Sheffield, Greg Fell, said, while this measure is not going to break our gambling harm epidemic—and it is important that the public health sector sees that the epidemic is there—it sets an important direction of travel.

I have a direct question for the Minister. Local councils and local communities have been expressing a desire to see these gambling adverts and other harmful adverts out of their communities. If the Government will not act centrally—although I would prefer it if they did—will they allow local communities to make the decision for themselves, not just on the sites that they control but on all the advertising sites within their communities?

It is important to note how much this advertising is focused in poorer, disadvantaged communities. In Sheffield, the group Adfree Cities found that 60% of the advertisements were in the poorest areas of the city while just 2% of the adverts were in the most affluent locations. More than four in five outdoor billboard adverts around the country are focused in the poorest areas of England and Wales. These impact negatively on people’s lives and on the environment in those communities.

Like other noble Lords, I commend the Library, as usual, on its excellent briefing. All the evidence is that, along with the deluge of gambling advertising that we are all being exposed to, we are seeing a great rise in problem gambling. Under the new methodology from the Gambling Commission, we are talking about a 2.5% problem gambler rate—that is more than 1 million people. This is an addiction problem and a public health crisis. The GamCare helpline had more than 50,000 calls and online chats in 2023, up 24% on the previous year.

Other noble Lords have referred to the situation of football. Again, there is a strong, fast-rising grass-roots campaign saying, “We want something to be done about this”. As far as I have been able to discover, AFC Wimbledon was the last club to join the campaign The Big Step, calling for an end to all gambling advertising in football. That campaign is part of Gambling with Lives, the charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide. I do not think anyone has said this figure yet, but I think it needs to be recorded: the Government’s own estimate is that there are 496 suicides related to problem gambling every year. And I have one figure showing how much people are suffering: in the first weekend of the Premier League last August, fans were subjected to 11,000 gambling adverts.

To put this all in a broader context, we have an epidemic of problem advertising. Figures out this morning from the WHO show that the UK has the worst rate of child alcohol abuse worldwide. We have a real problem where advertising is creating an unhealthy society. We need a much healthier society, which is something the Government themselves often acknowledge. Gambling is part of a much broader problem. There is no right to advertise. We have right to say as a society that we do not want to force unhealthy products on people and communities.

Photo of The Bishop of Derby The Bishop of Derby Bishop 2:50, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I echo the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing this debate and for his work, alongside the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and others, on Peers for Gambling Reform, campaigning tirelessly over the past several years. While the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans cannot be in his place today to add his voice, I am sure I echo the sentiments of all Members when I say that we look forward to welcoming him back very soon to add weight to this conversation.

We have heard this afternoon that the link between problem gambling and serious harm is well documented. There are not only financial impacts of gambling addiction, which may on its own drive individuals with large gambling debts to theft, fraud or other forms of criminal activity, but also impacts on relationships, work, school and serious harm to both physical and mental health. Public Health England identified problem gamblers as at greater risk of dying from any cause and significantly increased risk of dying from suicide, as we have so eloquently just heard.

These consequences, as well as having an impact on those individuals, also lead to indirect harms to children in those households. I welcome the Government’s response to the committee’s second report on gambling regulation, particularly the commitment to use funds from the levy to commission independent research around gambling and gambling-related harms. However, I echo the committee’s call for this research to be undertaken urgently and specifically on the link between gambling advertising and gambling harm to children. I ask for a commitment and a timeline to address that recommendation.

Research by GambleAware released this month makes clear that children and young people are exposed to a high level of gambling advertising, particularly online. While we have heard that this link has not been proven to be causal, we have heard about the research that found that 34% of those who bet in the UK admit to being influenced by advertising, with over 15% claiming that ads cause them to increase their gambling. A similar percentage said that viewing ads resulted in them taking up gambling again after a break.

Gambling reform is not my area of expertise, but I have done a significant amount of work over the course of my ministry with at-risk children and young people. I am currently vice-chair of the Children’s Society. Ofcom’s most recent report finding that one-quarter of five to seven year olds own a smartphone, with nearly one-third using social media unsupervised, caused me great concern. We know that our children are increasingly online. We need to ensure we are keeping pace with the rapidly evolving online landscape to protect our children from harm.

New technologies are significantly increasing exposure to advertisement, sponsorships and marketing, and our current codes must be urgently updated to reflect this. Social media forms a huge part of the gambling industry’s advertising practices. I was really shocked to read recently that 92% of content marketing ads sent by major gambling brands were not obviously identifiable as advertising. That particularly impacts children.

I too will close with an example illustrating that current guidance to protect children and young people simply is not fit for purpose. As recently as a few weeks ago, a gambling firm was promoting a game on social media marketed with three cartoon frogs. Taking a dip with the “ribbiting rascals” might appeal to some adults, but it would almost certainly appeal more to children. Such advertising should not be allowed.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 2:55, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I start with a small confession: I live in the village of Lambourn, which is the centre of the racing industry. If there ever was an industry linked to gambling, it is racing. That made me think about my reaction to gambling, given that I do not sit on horses or gamble much. It is the fact that it is a day out, when you have drinks in a nice environment, watching racing. Virtually everything we are talking about today does not apply to that scenario. We are talking about casually watching something on a screen, be it the one in our pockets—I have just remembered to make sure mine is switched off—a TV screen or another screen at home. That device in our pockets means that we can gamble at virtually any time. We need only be conscious to gamble on it. That is a totally different situation to the one I originally related to the gambling experience. It is a private activity. We know that the constant hits lead to addiction, so how do we control this situation and limit the inevitable damage, in a few cases, to those few cases? That is effectively what we are talking about here.

As many have mentioned, witty advertising lives with the young, even if they do not buy. How many witty smoking adverts did people come up with? They were quite creative and fun, with running jokes. I note the Silk Cut advert. Even non-smokers waited for the next joke. People bought in—it is very easy to. Some people take the biscuit, and some do not. The amount of money spent on advertising clearly means that the providers of this service see the link. As they are not going bankrupt at a rate of knots, one assumes they know what they are talking about.

What will the Government do to make sure that it is difficult for people to access gambling services? We have had suggestions, from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for example, about having more difficult identification processes. There was a very good idea about a warning saying, “The person who’s guaranteed to make money on your bet is the bookie”. That is a very creative idea, and I hope we will run with it.

What are the Government doing in a systematic manner to make sure that children have more problems getting access to this? If the parents actively help them, we may have more problems still, but what are the Government actively doing? What are we doing to make sure that the young in particular—going up to about 24 might be a good idea here—will not see this advertising by accident? That is probably the principal objective here. Will you see these witty, well-placed little adverts by accident? Are they something you take on board? If you watch anything that crosses the watershed on late-night TV, you find yourself subjected to gambling advertising—“subjected” is probably wrong because you can always switch off, but it is there and always around. What will we do to make sure that that does not happen?

Finally, when it comes to sports and the big stadiums, if the Premier League is starting to take the adverts off teams’ shirts, why are the Government not encouraging everyone to remove them over a period of time? There is always a run-in, but we are proving to sport generally, and the biggest sport of all, that government will intervene eventually. Encouragement to make sure that we are removing, or at least controlling, this advertising within the stadium and on players’ bodies seems a reasonable step. We can give them some warning, but we can reduce it. If it is going to be in the director’s box, maybe that is fine, but it does not have to be at the side of the pitch. Can we make sure that there is some vision for and thought on restricting this? At the moment, there does seem to be anything coherent. I look forward to seeing how that will change.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:00, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for bringing forward this topic for short debate. It is timely, and he is an indefatigable campaigner on this issue.

It is often said that we all like a flutter, and it is probably true, although you would struggle to get me to buy more than a raffle ticket. For most who choose to take part, it is an enjoyable and harmless activity but, at its extreme, gambling can be addictive; damaging to family life, relationships, and personal, mental and physical health; and life-destroying. I am sure that pretty much all of us have come across people in our lives with a gambling problem or who have been impacted by gambling problems. I know I have, and it was sad and tragic to see.

The DCMS Select Committee reported last year that

“around a third of a million people experience problem gambling, and it is likely that many more suffer gambling-related harm”.

The Library briefing for this debate, based on updated Gambling Commission data, estimates that it may be over a million. GamCare reports that the number of people seeking help for gambling-related harms is increasing. In the year to January 2024, requests for help rose by 24%. The NHS also reports increased demand for its gambling clinics. This is before we consider those who are struggling but do not feel able to ask for help.

I want to focus briefly on the need for better research. The DCMS Select Committee, in its inquiry into the gambling White Paper, stated:

“There is an urgent need to better understand the effects of gambling advertising on the risk of harm”.

It found that:

“While the existing evidence base does not show a causative link between gambling advertising and harm, it seems clear that advertising encourages participation in gambling and that this effect is more pronounced for children and those vulnerable to gambling harm”.

The activity of the gambling industry clearly suggests that it believes that advertising is a driver of interest in and support for gambling. In 2018, Regulus Partners reported that investment in marketing increased between 2014 and 2017 from £l billion to £1.5 billion, roughly 10% of the industry’s £13.8 billion revenue, with much of it now targeted at gamblers online. The Select Committee recommended that:

“The Government must commission independent longitudinal research on the link between gambling advertising and the risk of gambling harm, including specifically for … children”.

This needs to be a focus of the funding made available by the statutory levy.

I have two questions for the Minister. In their response to the Select Committee, published last week, the Government stated that levy funding will be directed towards independent research on gambling and gambling-related harms, which “could” include further advertising-related research. Can the Minister confirm to the House today that levy funding will be directed at research into the link between advertising and gambling harms, particularly in relation to children? Secondly—I am sure the Minister must be expecting this question—when can we expect the Government to publish their consultation on the statutory levy? The response to the Select Committee gives little away when it states that we should expect it “in the coming weeks”.

Sport, which many noble Lords have spoken about, is another key issue here. It is a huge part of our national and family life, and children are exposed to it and enjoy it alongside older family members. Alongside welcome and effective measures, including the whistle-to-whistle ban and plans for gambling sponsorship to be removed from the front of players’ kits, the Minister will be aware of the concerns raised over the amount of gambling advertising that young viewers are still exposed to during sporting events, and which they cannot opt out of.

It is therefore welcome that the central cross-sport gambling sponsorship code of conduct has been finalised, and that one of the four core principles is the protection of children and other vulnerable people. Can the Minister confirm that the code has been published, so it can be accessed by parliamentarians and sports fans—of course, some of us are both? Can the Minister give an update on when we might expect individual sports to publish their bespoke versions of the code? Can he tell us whether the Government are alive to the VIP managed clients who, thanks to direct online marketing techniques, now generate some 83% of gambling companies’ profits? By the way, one of the code’s core principles is that gambling promotion will be socially responsible. Can the Minister tell us more about what that looks like?

Finally, we welcome the ongoing work on delivering the White Paper; this is an area in which there is a sizable amount of activity and considerable consensus. What Members of this House are seeking to do is ensure that that activity is focused and delivered at pace and that no crucial issues are allowed to fall through the gaps.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) 3:05, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for initiating today’s debate and for the way he opened it. I had the pleasure of working with him, and a number of noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate, on the Select Committee that he mentioned, before I became a Minister at DCMS. So I thank him for his tenacity in this area.

The Government recognise the concerns that he and many other noble Lords have raised about the impact of gambling advertising, particularly its impact on children. The debate about advertising reflects the balance we are aiming to strike with our vision for the gambling sector more broadly: regulating an innovative and responsible gambling industry on the one hand, and fulfilling the duty of government to protect children and the wider public from gambling-related harm on the other.

That is why, as part of our review of the Gambling Act 2005, we took an exhaustive look at the best available evidence. We are certainly not dismissive of evidence: on the contrary, we have sought to take an evidence-based approach. The White Paper that we published in April last year includes a robust, balanced package of reforms to prevent and minimise the risks of gambling-related harm.

Since the implementation of the Gambling Act under the last Labour Government nearly 20 years ago, gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship have become more visible and widespread, and we have seen a visible integration of gambling advertising within sport. While this continual growth has not resulted in an increase in gambling participation rates, or in population problem-gambling rates, which have remained broadly stable for roughly two decades, it is important that there is a range of robust protections on advertising in place to ensure that it does not exacerbate harm.

The rules on gambling advertising, which operators must follow, are set by the Committee of Advertising Practice. A wide range of provisions in the codes are specifically designed to protect children and vulnerable adults. Compliance with these codes is a condition of Gambling Commission licences, and the commission can—and does—take action on adverts that are in breach of the codes.

Furthermore, the industry code for socially responsible advertising includes a television watershed on all gambling products apart from bingo and lotteries. Children’s exposure to gambling advertising on broadcast television is declining. The industry’s “whistle-to-whistle” ban has cut the number of pre-9pm betting adverts to around a quarter of their previous level, and further cut the average number of sports betting adverts seen by children to 0.3 per week.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Llafur

I just want to clarify something: I should have said “pre-watershed”. I was in too much of a hurry to keep within five minutes; I am sorry.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and I hope what I have said is none the less helpful in relation to the points she raised in her speech, which I welcome.

We recognise that there is good evidence to show that gambling advertising can have a disproportionate impact on those who are already experiencing problems with their gambling, and that some aggressive marketing practices are particularly associated with harm. The noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, mentioned a study which reflects that.

Evidence from the Gambling Commission shows that 35% of problem gamblers received incentives of offers to gamble daily, compared with 4% of non-problem gamblers. Furthermore, while 10% of gamblers with a “non-problem” or “low-risk” score—according to the problem gambling severity index—were influenced to gamble more by direct marketing, this rose to 41% among those with a “moderate risk” or “problem gambler” score.

We also recognise that content often used in gambling advertising can inappropriately appeal to children and young people—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised such an instance. That is why we have introduced a suite of measures to further prevent potentially harmful impacts of advertising, specifically for children. Since October 2022, advertising rules have been strengthened to prohibit content that downplays the risk or overstates the skill involved in betting. The rules also ban content that is likely to be of strong appeal to children. In that regard, I will raise with officials the frog-based example that the right reverend Prelate gave. As a result of this ban, top-flight footballers or celebrities popular with children are banned from being in gambling adverts. In line with existing gambling advertising rules, the Premier League’s decision to ban front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling firms will commence by the end of the 2025-26 season, breaking the direct association between gambling brands and popular players.

The noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, suggested that there should be warnings to potential players on gambling adverts. Robust Advertising Standards Authority rules prevent content and adverts that, for instance, promote gambling as a route to financial success, and adverts on television must direct people to available support services. We are also working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Gambling Commission to develop independent information campaigns about the risks of gambling—taking that out of the hands of the industry.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I find it difficult that he stands at the Dispatch Box and talks about all these rules, when I gave a specific example of a Paddy Power advertisement—although it is not called an advertisement—that simply had a large photograph of the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp. Does he believe that was a correct thing for Paddy Power to do, or should it have been banned?

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

Well, as with the case that the right reverend Prelate raised, I will take that up with officials. I was spelling out some of the actions—some of which are still to come in. As I said, the Premier League rules will come in by the end of the forthcoming season. I am sure the noble Lord will reflect that some of the work has been done and some is coming shortly, but I will raise the case he mentions with the team at the department.

As we set out in our White Paper, we are also working closely with the Gambling Commission to take targeted action on advertising to ban harmful practices and ensure that it remains socially responsible, wherever it appears. The commission has recently consulted on new rules to give consumers more control over the direct gambling marketing that they wish to receive, and on strengthened protections to ensure that free bets and bonuses are constructed in a way that does not encourage excessive or harmful gambling. The commission will set out its responses to these consultations soon. Together, these measures will empower customers and prohibit harmful marketing practices, to prevent the risk of gambling harms.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, referred to the powers available to local authorities. As she reflected, these vary from local authority to local authority, but, as we heard in the debate, the metro mayors in London and Manchester are using the powers that are available to them.

There is no single intervention that provides the answer to effectively preventing gambling-related harm. That is why we have taken a holistic approach that includes action on products and protections for players. We recently announced the introduction of stake limits for online slot games, where we have seen evidence of elevated levels of harmful gambling, and are pursuing broader protections, such as financial risk checks that will require online operators to identify and take action in relation to customers who are financially vulnerable. That will prevent runaway losses, which we are still seeing happen too often. The Government are clear that effective and innovative collaboration to get the right mixture of interventions for the population as a whole—as well as those with specific needs or vulnerabilities—is required to tackle gambling harm.

A key part of that approach is the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory levy, which I know has been a long-standing priority for the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and others raised. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, dwelt on the importance of evidence. Perhaps I should end my remarks by acknowledging that further work is needed to build the evidence base to ensure that policy and regulation are able to deal with emerging issues.

In response to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I make clear that developing quality evidence is a priority for our statutory levy. Through the levy, increased and ring-fenced funding will be directed towards high-quality, independent research into gambling and gambling-related harms, including in relation to advertising. We will continue to monitor the evidence base and, if new evidence suggests that we need to go further, we will look at this again. The Government will also respond to their bespoke consultation on the levy and will set out their final decisions very soon.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for tabling today’s debate and all those who have spoken in it. I am certain that we will return to this topic again before long.