Bet-in-play now. Gamble responsibly. When the fun stops, stop.
If you’ve watched any live sport on TV over the past decade then you’ll probably be familiar with those phrases. After the teams have walked out onto the pitch, just before they’re about to start the match, we’ll cut to adverts one last time before kick-off just so whichever celebrity it is now can let you know what the latest live odds are. Then, at half time, they’re back to let you know how those odds have changed. During this summer’s World Cup, people were exposed to 90 minutes of gambling advertising – the length of a whole football match.
However, such is the pervasiveness of gambling sponsorship in sport, matches themselves now serve as something of a glorified advert. Whether it’s on the advertising hoardings that circle the pitch, the shirts that the players are wearing, or even the name of the very competition they’re participating in, betting companies are all over sport. The consequences of this are becoming clearer as an increasing number of people struggle to disassociate the act of watching sport from placing a bet.
This is most worrying in the minds of the young, who are now more exposed to gambling than ever before. After all, apps on phones are far easier for people to enter than bookies on the high street. Indeed, of the over 430,000 problem gamblers now in the UK, 25,000 are said to be aged 16 or under. Meanwhile, a further two million people are said to be at risk of falling into addiction.
In his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson led the creation of a consultation paper on gambling policy, which this week has been endorsed by the Conservative peer Lord Chadlington. Writing in an article for The House magazine, Lord Chadlington said, ‘I am surprised to find myself not only agreeing with Tom Watson – but even urging him to be more extreme!’
Among the proposals are a ban on ‘whistle-to-whistle’ advertising during live sport and a mandatory one per cent levy on betting companies, with the money used to fund clinics and research.
Posting on his Facebook page, Tom Watson welcomed the endorsement. He wrote that ‘sometimes policies are simply good policies, regardless of which party they come from. So I am really pleased to see the growing political, healthcare, industry and public agreement around Labour’s gambling policies which I unveiled last month.’
Watson cites support from Ladbrokes for the ban on ‘whistle-to-whistle’ advertising, while industry body the Remote Gambling Association is said to be in support of the mandatory one per cent levy. As Lord Chadlington notes in his article, the current voluntary level of 0.1 per cent raises £10m compared to the annual £130m sum that could be raised from a mandatory payment of one per cent.
Regarding the ban on ‘whistle-to-whistle’ advertising, Lord Chadlington stresses that Britain must learn the lessons of Australia. Their ban on ‘whistle-to-whistle’ advertising saw the hour before and after matches overloaded with such coverage. Therefore, Lord Chadlington argues that the ban must extend to at least the hour before and after live sporting events.
As Tom Watson has been keen to point out when discussing the policy, this is not an attempt to ban people from gambling on live sport. Rather it is trying to stop the coverage of such events being dominated by adverts pointing people towards those possibilities. The reason for this being that they can serve as a trigger for problem gamblers, whose addiction can result in the loss of incomes, families and in the very worst cases, their lives.
This is not just a problem that affects those who watch sport but also those who play it. Footballer Joey Barton was given a ban of 18 months for breaching rules on betting. In response, Barton issued a statement saying, ‘I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem. I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration. I think if the FA is truly serious about tackling the culture of gambling in football, it needs to look as its own dependence on the gambling companies, their role in football and in sports broadcasting.’
Given the health ramifications of gambling addiction, its advertising should be restricted in similar ways to alcohol and tobacco. While alcohol companies used to dominate sports sponsorship, they no longer adorn the shirts of Premier League clubs the way they used to. Meanwhile, a ban on tobacco advertising at Formula 1 Grand Prix and other sporting events in the EU was established on 1 August 2005.
However, gambling companies have very much moved into the space vacated by those industries. Lord Chadlington himself calls for action comparable to the ban on tobacco advertising in 1965. While nobody prevented people who wanted to smoke from doing so, it was a societal recognition of its risks and that its usage shouldn’t be so readily encouraged, particularly in front of vulnerable or susceptible audiences.
This is a rare instance of cross-party agreement. Lord Chadlington finishes his article by asking, ‘Why don’t we just get on with it?' with Tom Watson responding, ‘I agree.’ While Brexit frustratingly dominates the government’s bandwidth, it is imperative that this growing consensus is recognised and acted upon, so that we can start to fix this country’s growing gambling epidemic. The fun stopped a long time ago. It is time to clamp down on bet-in-play adverts. Now.