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The gambling industry and TV advertising – a decade on


19 Dec 2017

It is easy to forget that a little over a decade ago, gambling adverts were heavily restricted on television.

The National Lottery was advertised, the Football Pools was still being publicised and there was some promotion of bingo products.

However, casinos, bookmakers and online betting sites were all banned from being advertised on television and radio.

This changed with the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act, which replaced previous legislation that dated back to 1845.

The act eventually came into force in September 2007, featuring changes such as top bingo prizes rising above £1m for the first time and casinos being allowed to welcome non-members through their doors.

Yet, it was the lifting of the advertising ban that was considered the most significant development.

The rise in visibility

In 2013, an Ofcom review began to shed some light on the impact of the change.

The research highlighted that in the year previous, the total number of gambling commercials to air was 1.39m.

This was in comparison to only 90,000 gambling adverts being shown on British television in 2005 and then 234,000 by the year the new gambling act took the previous shackles off.

Obviously, 2008 was the first full year under the current umbrella and the number of gambling adverts airing then was 537,000, still less than half of the 2012 amount.

In terms of the types of commercials being viewed, bingo adverts were screened the most five years ago at 532,000, with online casino and poker ranking next on 411,000.

Somewhat surprising was that only 91,000 sports betting adverts were shown.

The rise in spending

Although Ofcom hasn’t delivered an updated review to follow up on the initial research, the size of the increase in advertising spend in the period since suggests further upswings in the number of gambling commercials shown.

Figures compiled by Nielsen last year highlighted that back in 2012, betting companies spent £81.2m advertising on television.

But, by 2015, these same firms offering bingo, online casino games, poker and sports betting had increased their spend to £118.5m.

Across this period, close to half a billion (£456m) was spent on television advertising by gambling firms and this was before any advertising spend from lottery companies was added into the mix.

More recent research prepared for the Gambling Commission and released earlier this year found that the National Lottery was the most popular gambling activity in the UK, with 46% of adults taking part.

Live events

Breaking down the Gambling Commission numbers further, half of adult men attempted to win the National Lottery, while 10% played slot machines and five per cent gambled online on casino games.

More popular was sports betting online, with 12% of adult males dabbling in this hobby. And it is targeting this breed of gambler during live events where television adverting seems at its fullest.

Victoria Derbyshire is a weekday current affairs television programme shown on the BBC and in October it disclosed some research relating to advertising during 25 football matches this season.

The time from the pre-game build up until the conclusion of the post-match analysis on various television channels was assessed, with the main finding being that 95% of advert slots contained at least one of a gambling nature.

Some 272 from the complete total of 1,324 commercials and sponsorship indents were linked to gambling.

The future

One of the major concerns of the continued growth of gambling advertising relates to its impact upon children.

Back in 2007, betting companies signed up to a voluntary code called the Committee of Advertising Practice, which not only ensures that all gambling adverts in some way mention the Gamble Aware website, but also blocks certain commercials from being showcased before the 9pm watershed.

After all, with at least two Premier League football matches shown between lunchtime and early evening every weekend, alongside regular horse racing, there is no shortage of live sport for children to watch.

Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Culture, went as far to say last year: “I know my children can recite just about every gambling advert there is because they sit and watch Sky – I won’t say the name, a news channel that is 24-hour sports.

“They hear those adverts. I am interested as a parent but I am also interested as a Secretary of State in understanding what the impact is on young people of that advertising.”

Australia and Belgium have already made the move to ban all gambling adverts from airing in live sport before the watershed and there have been calls for the UK to do something similar.