UK betting: 'Sensible and proportional' limits show no need for ads ban
By Simon Ward at Betting on Football
The voluntary steps taken by the UK’s leading gambling companies to restrict sports betting advertising on television mean that an outright ban is not necessary, and would be counterproductive, according to regulatory executives within the industry.
Last December, in response to increasing public and political concerns over the growth in betting advertising in live sports coverage, and in particular its contribution to problem gambling and impact on young people, it was agreed through the Remote Gambling Association, which represents some of the country’s largest bookmakers, to restrict the level of activity.
From the start of August, under a new 'whistle-to-whistle' bar, there will be no betting advertising from five minutes before an event starts to five minutes after it finishes, including at half-time in soccer matches, before the watershed of 9pm.
This will apply to all televised sport except horse racing and greyhound racing, which are considered to be reliant on betting, and extends to reruns and highlights shows, plus streaming of televised events on computers and mobile devices.
Speaking on a panel at the Betting on Football conference at Stamford Bridge in London yesterday, John Hagan, the chair of the UK’s Industry Group for Responsible Gambling, said: “There’s too much advertising at the moment, but this [agreement] will result in a dramatic reduction in the amount, and I believe will change the public perception of gambling advertising in this country for the better.”
The RGA, which includes the likes of Bet365, Ladbrokes Coral, Paddy Power, SkyBet, Betfred, Betfair, Stan James and William Hill, was following a trend in the market, with Sky, the leading UK pay-TV sports broadcaster, having already pledged to restrict gambling advertising on its channels.
From the start of the 2019-20 soccer season, there will be only one such advertisement per commercial break, and viewers will be able to block these using Adsmart technology.
For some, the self-regulation does not go far enough, with the UK’s opposition Labour Party having led calls for a ban on betting advertising in live TV sports coverage, and on teams signing shirt sponsorship deals with betting companies.
In a controversial government move, legislation along these lines is set to take effect in Italy in July of this year.
However, Hagan, who is also a partner at Harris Hagan, a specialist gambling law firm, believes UK betting companies have acted responsibly and proportionately to address a valid issue, and therefore headed off a wider ban.
He said: “The public expressed concerns about the amount of gambling advertising on TV. The industry listened to those concerns and acted positively and decisively to address them. They [the companies] worked together right across the industry, as the [Gambling] Commission is always asking them to do, to produce this dramatic reduction in advertising.
“They could have said, ‘well, we’ve the right to advertise on television, we operate a legal and highly-regulated product.’ They could have said, ‘there’s no evidence of any harm being caused to children or young people.’ They could have said, ‘public irritation at the volume and content of gambling advertising isn’t a reason to restrict that advertising.’
“But they didn’t. They collaborated. They listened to the public concerns and they took a precautionary approach and it’s been well received… We now have a sensible and proportional response to legitimate public concerns. Let’s see how it works in practice.”
Hagan welcomed initiatives by Sky to address problem gambling, while insisting that it was not a priority of the UK betting industry to normalise the activity nor attract millions of additional punters.
He said: “Let’s not forget that broadcasters are probably the main beneficiaries of gambling advertising because what’s happening with the big [betting] companies is that you have to advertise to maintain your market share. The evidence is not that you’re bringing in a lot more new customers, you’re just paying to hang on to what you have.”
Betting firms have also sought to demonstrate a commitment to tackling addiction, with GVC Holdings, which acquired Ladbrokes Coral last year, recently launching ‘Changing for the Bettor’, a global responsible gambling campaign.
This is made up of seven pillars and includes a five-year, multi-million-pound research project into problem gambling being undertaken in partnership with the Division on Addiction, Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching hospital at Harvard Medical School in USA.
Commenting on its role in reducing betting advertising in the UK, Martin Lycka, the director of regulatory affairs at GVC Group, told delegates at the conference: “GVC has been one of the companies that has led the charge on the amendments to the code. I do completely agree that a lot had to be done. Going forward we will have to see how the restrictions, which are to a large extent self-imposed, will be received, not only by the regulators, but by the public at large, and react to that.”
He also echoed a familiar refrain from the betting industry that a ban on advertising would serve to boost the black market, and that promotional messages can actually contribute to more responsible gambling.
Lycka said: “Ultimately it’s about finding the right balance and where the proverbial line in the sand is in terms of what can be advertised, in what way and how frequently. An advertising ban, just like any other excessive restriction, on gambling is conducive to incentivising customers to play with unlicensed operators because they might not stumble across the legitimate licensed offer.”
He added: “What the UK industry has agreed makes a lot of sense to me, and now the question is 'to what extent this will be or can be replicated in other jurisdictions that are regulated?”
On the effect of advertising, Lycka said: “It could serve a very good purpose. If there’s no advertising out there, I can’t imagine that punters would stop doing what they’re doing, but the advertising could be used for the purpose of conveying information that will serve customers to be able to rein in their own gambling. In my view, there’s a positive side to the advertising provided that it’s done in the correct way.”
Shirt sponsorship Concerns over the ‘normalisation’ of sports betting in the UK have been fuelled by the recent proliferation of shirt sponsorship deals with companies in the sector.
At present, nine of the 20 clubs in English soccer’s top-tier Premier League and 17 of the 24 second-tier Sky Bet Championship clubs have such agreements with betting and gambling companies.
Shirt sponsorship forms part of an ongoing UK government review of the gambling industry, albeit branding for betting companies is already outlawed on replica kits for children.
Mark Davies, the global head of partnerships at Championship club Swansea City, claims that while there should be safeguards to protect young people from overt messaging, a wider ban would have serious financial implications.
The Welsh team, which was relegated from the Premier League last season, now has a shirt sponsorship deal with online casino BETUK.com.
Davies told delegates: “It [a ban] would create a real hole in how football clubs operate year on year. Looking at the Premier League, outside the top six, only four or five clubs don’t have betting brands [as shirt sponsors], and most of those are linked to ownership or a joint deal with the stadium. We’ve come to bank on it [betting], and it filters right down to the Championship we play in now.”
He added that, for many soccer fans, betting is part of the experience of attending or watching a game, and it therefore made sense for the sport to have a close relationship with the sector.
Davies said: “I think you have to be very careful about who you’re doing it [regulation] for because a supporter will want it [access to betting]. We play in a football league that has a betting company as a headline partner so it would be somewhat hypocritical for it to come from the top down.”