ASA chairman speaks out about legalising gambling advertising

Business News

The Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) new chairman Lord David Currie has raised concerns over the “unforeseen consequences” of legalising gambling advertising on TV and radio 10 years ago.

Currie says the ad regulator has been “quite tough” on individual ads. Just last month, it banned ads from Ladbrokes, SkyBet, Casumo and 888 run by affiliates (which are paid a commission for finding new customers) that suggested a man could fund his wife’s cancer treatment by betting online.

“There were four that were banned last month where the gambling companies had relied on their affiliates and didn’t really know what was being done on their behalf. They have learned their lesson from that. They were in a bad place because they were causing deep offence. Being tough on those sorts of ads is what the ASA can do,” he explains.

The ASA is also one of a number of signatories to a letter sent to online gambling firms ordering them to stop operating games that use “particular colours, cartoons and comic book images, animals, child and youth-orientated references and names of games such as Piggy Payout and Fluffy Favourites” because they are likely to enhance the appeal of betting to under-18s.

However, Currie believes it is the “sheer volume” of gambling ads seen on TV that “upsets people” and remains one of the key issues for the industry. And he suggests legislation brought in 10 years ago to allow gambling ads to appear on TV has had unforeseen consequences, although he is quick to add that any changes would be “a decision for government and parliament”.

“It goes back to the 2005 legislation, which came into place in 2007 and saw a huge increase in the volume. People don’t like the sheer volume and what they call in Australia the ‘gamblification’ of sport,” he says.

“I am old enough to remember when gambling was just associated with the dogs and horses. Now you can associate it with all aspects of sport. The decision to allow gambling ads to appear alongside live sport arguably was not a well thought-through decision, because it means they are concentrated there so you associate live sport with gambling.”

His comments are backed up by a recent investigation by the BBC, which found that 95% of TV ad breaks during live UK football matches feature at least one gambling ad. The research also reveals that one in five commercials broadcast across 25 matches were for betting firms, rising to one in three in some games.

Currently, gambling commercials can only be shown after the 9pm watershed, except during live sport. However, the government is expected to publish its review of the industry imminently with the link between gambling ads and problem gambling one of the areas under investigation.

The industry claims advertising has “limited impact” on gambling rates. However, a report by the Gambling Commission estimates that the number of over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers has grown by a third in three years to around 430,000 people, although the rate of problem gambling is “statistically stable” at 0.8% of over-16s. More than two million are now estimated to be problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.