Proposals and Progress

In April 2023, the Government published its long awaited white paper on gambling reform (White Paper) which included a series of proposals aiming to modernise UK gambling regulation. One area addressed in the White Paper was marketing and advertising (Chapter 2). Industry stakeholders’ views in this area were somewhat polarised, with some taking the view that the current regulatory regime was fit for purpose and others advocating a return to the pre-2005 regime where most gambling advertising was banned. The policy proposals contained in the White Paper included:

  • reforms to incentives, such as bonuses and free bets. For example:
    • amending the LCCPs to ensure operators can only offer socially responsible incentives; and
    • introducing caps on re-wagering requirements and appropriate time frames for customers to claim bonuses;
  • proposals to strengthen direct marketing consent, such as:
    • requiring customers opt-in to receive any marketing offers;
    • limiting operators using cross-selling techniques across platforms and products; and
    • empowering consumers by ensuring marketing preferences can be changed at any time; and
  • changing the approach to safer gambling messaging.

More stringent advertising restrictions were not advocated as the Government adopted the view that this may push consumers towards black market platforms. For example, the White Paper viewed a wholesale ban on marketing incentives or further restrictions to broadcast advertising (such as applying the voluntary 9pm watershed to all gambling products and making it a statutory requirement) as being dis-proportionate, so such proposals were not within the scope of the proposed reforms.

Since the publication of the White Paper, the Gambling Commission has launched two separate consultations, one addressing the issue of incentives and the other looking at direct marketing. The responses to these consultations are not yet available, so there remains a lack of clarity as to what concrete measures will be put forward.

The House’s Position

In the debate, the House of Lords criticised the fact that “the White Paper proposes very little action in respect of gambling advertising”, seeing advertising as a major cause of gambling harms, particularly amongst young people. In particular, the Government’s inaction was asserted to have driven some parties to act independently, for example:

  • over 80 local councils restricting gambling advertising on land, buildings, vehicles and other media properties they owned; and
  • 35 football clubs joining the campaign to end gambling advertising in football.

The UK was also compared to other nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain where the interpretation of available evidence on the link between advertising and gambling harm had led to “almost full bans on gambling advertising and sponsorship”, but the same approach had not been seen in the UK.

The introductory speech by Lord Foster of Bath concluded with the assertion that there are sufficient powers under the Gambling Act 2005 to regulate gambling advertising more stringently, meaning the Government’s inaction could not be excused by lengthy bureaucratic process.

Call to Raise the Stakes

Several recommendations were made by the house in the debate. The most notable proposals were:

  1. Children: members of the house flagged particular concern with the impact that gambling advertising could have on children. To address this, the following proposals were made:
    • introducing two factor authentication for all online gambling sites, so that if a child attempted to gamble without their parents’ knowledge, their parents’ mobile phones would be notified; and
    • banning operators from advertising, or even operating, where they failed to implement the correct safety measures to protect children from accessing their products.
  2. Sport: several members of the house called for tougher restrictions in sport. Notably, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top stated the Government should push for: (a) a stadium and shirt ban on gambling advertising; (b) the publication of the sports sponsorship code, to enable it to be scrutinised (a call echoed by Lord Bassam of Brighton); and (c) a ban on pre-watershed advertising, as had been implemented in Australia, Germany and Ireland.
  3. E-sports: Lord Trevethin and Oaksey raised the issue of e-sports, a topic which was not addressed in the White Paper at all, and referenced a potential ban on e-sports gambling advertising given the propensity for young persons to engage with these types of products.
  4. Statutory levy: the White Paper proposed the introduction of a statutory levy on gambling operators and Lord Bassam of Brighton requested that the Government commit to using the funds raised by the levy on researching the link between gambling advertising and the risk of gambling harm. There was also a call for the Government to confirm when it would publish its consultation on the statutory levy.

Government Response

While accepting the concerns raised, the response by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport) gave very little away in terms of concrete reform change. Two general confirmations were given, in that:

  • the Gambling Commission’s responses to their consultations on gambling advertising will be published “soon”; and
  • the Government’s response to the consultation on the statutory levy will be published “very soon”.

For obvious reasons, the debate in the House of Lords will not lead to policy reform immediately following the debate. However, it will be interesting to see whether the debate drives more stringent regulation of gambling advertising as the Government continues to implement policy change following the publication of the White Paper last year. We will continue to update on these topics when further information is available.

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