Arguably the most noticeable change in the British gambling landscape since the 2005 Gambling Act came into force on September 1, 2007 is the large increase of gambling advertising on television. Prior to September 2007, the only gambling adverts allowed on television were those for National Lottery products, bingo, and the football pools. Back in January 2012, Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt told Parliament that there were almost 36 hours a week of gambling adverts on television. She called for a review of the situation by Ofcom (the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries). She asked Prime Minister David Cameron to “please protect consumers, children and the vulnerable from this kind of activity [especially] at a time when we are encouraging people to be moderate in their expectations and behaviour”. The PM acknowledged Munt’s plea and described the issue as “a question of responsibility by the companies concerned. Anyone who enjoys watching a football match will see quite aggressive advertisements on the television, and I think companies have to ask themselves whether they are behaving responsibly when they do that”.
The day-to-day responsibility for enforcing rules about advertising content (and its scheduling) rests with the Advertising Standards Authority. However, for radio and television, the 2005 Gambling Act requires Ofcom to set, review, and revise standards for gambling advertisements in these media. In short, Ofcom is the regulating watchdog for all communications and retains overall responsibility for the advertising rules that gaming operators have to adhere to. Earlier this year, Ofcom commissioned some research to examine the volume, scheduling, frequency and exposure of gambling advertising on British television.
In November 2013, Ofcom finally published their findings research and showed that there had been a 600% increase in gambling advertising in the UK in 2012 compared to 2006 (more specifically there were 1.39 million adverts on television in 2012 compared to 152,000 adverts in 2006). In 2005, the number of televised gambling adverts was 90,000 and rose to 234,000 by 2007, and 537,000 in 2008. The research findings were based on analysis of the Broadcasting Audience Research Board (BARB) viewing data by Zinc Research & Analytics that categorized gambling adverts into one of four types (i.e., online casino and poker services; sports betting; bingo; and lotteries and scratch cards).
The bingo sector had the largest proportion of adverts with bingo adverts accounting for 38.3% of all British gambling adverts (approximately 532,000). Online casino and poker adverts comprised 29.6% of all television gambling advertising (approximately 411,000) with lotteries and scratchcards in third place with 25.6% (approximately 355,000), and sports betting in fourth place with 6.6% (approximately 91,000). The report also reported that gambling adverts accounted for 4.1% of all advertising seen by viewers in 2012 (up from 0.5% in 2006; 1.7% in 2008).
As someone who has written two books on adolescent gambling (see ‘Further reading’ below), one of the more worrying statistics reported was that children under 16 years of age were exposed to an average of 211 gambling adverts a year each (compared to adults who saw an average of 630). I am a firm believer that gambling is an adult activity and that gambling adverts should be shown after the 9pm watershed.
In addition to the relaxation of the laws relating to television advertising, another reason for the large increase in the number of adverts is the increase in the number of digital television channels. Over the time period, he total amount of television advertising airtime doubled from 17.4m to 34.2m spots. The report also highlighted that the 1.39m television adverts for gambling produced 30.9bn ‘impacts’ in 2012 (i.e., the number of times a commercial was seen by viewers) – up from 8 billion in 2006.
So is the large increase in gambling advertising having any effect on gambling and problem gambling? Well, the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011 showed that 73% of the British adult population (aged 16 years and over) participated in some form of gambling in the past year (equating to around 35.5 million adults). The most popular British gambling activity was playing the National Lottery (59%), a slight increase from the previous BGPS in 2007 (57%). There was an increase in betting on events other than horse races or dog races with a bookmaker (6% in 2007, 9% in 2010), buying scratchcards (20% in 2007, 24% in 2010), gambling online on poker, bingo, casino and slot machine style games (3% in 2007, 5% in 2010) and gambling on fixed odds betting terminals (3% in 2007, 4% in 2010), football pools (3% in 2007, 4% in 2010, 9% in 1999). There were some small but significant decreases in the popularity of slot machines (13% in 2010, 14% in 2007) and online betting (4% in 2007, 3% in 2010). For all other gambling activities, there was either no significant change between survey years or estimates varied with no clear pattern.
Men were more likely to gamble than women overall (75% men; 71% women). Among women, past year gambling increased from 65% in 2007 to 71% in 2010. Among men, past year gambling estimates were higher in 2010 than 2007 (75% and 71% respectively). Perhaps the most noteworthy statistic (particularly in relation to the substantial increase in televised gambling advertising) was that the prevalence of problem gambling was higher in 2010 (0.9%) than in 2007 (0.6%) equating to a 50% increase in problem gambling. One of the possible reasons for this statistically significant increase in problem gambling could well have been the increased exposure to gambling adverts on television.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.
Press Association (2012). Gambling adverts soar. November 19. Located at: http://uk.news.yahoo.com/gambling-ads-tv-soar-152721196.html#IPrymtu
Stradbrooke, S. (2011). UK puts TV gambling ads on notice; Ireland blames gambling for suicides. CalvinAyre.com, January 19. Located at: http://calvinayre.com/2012/01/19/business/uk-puts-gambling-tv-ads-on-notice/
Sweney, M. (2013). TV gambling ads have risen 600% since law change. The Guardian, November 19. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/nov/19/tv-gambling-ads
Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. and Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.
Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. and Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office.