The UK gambling industry is worth billions. And like any other industry, the success of gambling companies relies on effective and targeted advertising campaigns. As a result, in recent years the UK has been bombarded with advertisements for sports betting, online bingo, online casinos, Euromillions and the National Lottery, to name but a few.
In line with the current popularity of gambling in any form, the industry professes to be “mindful of its social responsibilities“, operating under “stringent licensing conditions designed to protect and help problem gamblers”. So great is the industry’s concern that out of the many billions that it makes each year, between “2012-2013 the industry contributed over £5 million via the Responsible Gambling Trust, and is expected to contribute over £6 million in 2013-2014“. The industry is also keen to stress it’s voluntary contribution to research funding, education and treatment related to gambling addiction. The sincerity of the industry’s contribution to such endeavours is understandably questionable, but it also raises questions about the industry’s commitment to tackling problems associated with addiction.
Gambling has well and truly been normalised, and for those suffering with gambling addiction, temptation is everywhere. The language that advertisers use is also of huge interest in the debate; naturally the aim of the game is to encourage people to use a particular gambling ‘service’, but by using words such as “guarantee” and “free bonus” the risk that comes with gambling is somewhat obscured. Many advertisers are also partial to using imperatives, encouraging the consumer to “bet now“. Gone are the days when you would have to enter a betting shop to gamble, now it is easier than ever and you don’t even have to leave the house – you can choose to bet by phone, online or via an app. Not only are these companies cashing in on convenience, but also on split-second decisions. As such it’s clear to see why the gambling industry has enjoyed so much success.
The question is, is there enough regulation? Be in no illusion, there are strict age limits, and stringent rules about the advertising of gambling. There are however weak points in the system. For starters, there is no “watershed” for adverts – so long as they are not targeted at children, or feature in between programmes targeted at children, they can be shown at any time. But for televised sports events which are watched by people of all ages, sponsors and advertisers tend to include betting companies. Teams and players, that often act as role models for younger people, also tend to be sponsored by gambling companies, with sports kits endorsing their services.
The gambling commission’s rules also appear at a surface level to have room for manoeuvre: when it comes to promotional offers, “As a general rule, conditions and factors which are likely to affect a consumer’s decision to participate in a promotion […] must appear, with sufficient prominence, in the advert itself. […] If time or space is genuinely limited (for example a small pop-up banner) then these conditions must be made available within one click“.
There are also multiple age restrictions in place for different forms of gambling; under the Gambling Act 2005 Part 4 Protection of Children and Young Persons one must be 16 to take part in the National Lottery, the Euromillions draw, or to buy a scratch card. 18 to enter a casino/place bets within other licensed gambling premises, or to play some gaming machines. Whilst some gaming machines, “prize gaming” at non-licensed family entertainment centres and “prize gaming” at fairs, has no age limit.
With the rise of the internet and apps, the rules and regulations that are in place to protect vulnerable people might no longer be sufficient. Whilst companies provide links to gambleaware, contribute voluntarily to research projects, and display text that tells the consumer to “gamble responsibly”, their main concern still lies with making money, not asking people to step back and consider the risks. That is not say that there is anything wrong with gambling so long as it is responsible, but that perhaps it’s time to review the rules so that they reflect the changes within the gambling industry…