Gambling companies agree ban on TV ads during live sport

According to the BBC report, horse racing will be exempt from the restrictions

Any “whistle-to-whistle” TV advertising gambling ban will not include horse racing. Photograph: Getty Images

Any “whistle-to-whistle” TV advertising gambling ban will not include horse racing. Photograph: Getty Images

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Online gambling companies have agreed to a voluntary “whistle-to-whistle” ban on advertising during live sports in the UK, in an effort to address concerns about their impact on children.

Companies such as Bet365, William Hill and Ladbrokes would agree not to advertise during live sports, including after 9pm if the event started before the watershed.

While the proposals have yet to be approved, they are likely to be rubber-stamped at a meeting of the five major gambling industry associations next week, with a view to implementing the ban within six months.

A senior gambling industry figure said he would be “surprised and disappointed” if the measures are not agreed and said that while not every online betting firm would support them, all were likely to comply.

“It would be a very brave company that would stick its head above the parapet in isolation,” he said.

The “whistle-to-whistle” ban would involve the industry falling into line with UK Labour party proposals.

The advertising proposals, first reported by the BBC, have been put forward by the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which represents online betting firms.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “I’m delighted that gambling operators have adopted Labour’s proposal of a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during live sport.

“With over 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, many of them children, the number of adverts during live sports had clearly reached crisis levels.

“There was clear public support for these restrictions and I’m glad that for once the industry, led by the (RGA), has taken its responsibilities seriously and listened.”

Several chief executives in the gambling industry, including the bosses of William Hill and Paddy Power Betfair, have said they would support greater restrictions on advertising to protect children.

Concern about normalisation of gambling has risen due to the sheer volume of ads during televised sport.

Research by the Guardian during the World Cup found that children were “bombarded” with 90 minutes of gambling adverts during the tournament.

Recently Sky were the first broadcaster to take action when they announced that – from the start of the 2019 Premier League season – they will show a maximum of one gambling ad per commercial break. However, if the proposed “whistle-to-whistle” ban comes in there will be none shown at all.

Online gambling companies are thought to have learned a lesson from the resistance shown by the Association of British Bookmakers, which fought tooth and nail against the cut in maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals.

Their campaign was ultimately unsuccessful and caused considerable damage to the industry’s reputation over efforts to prevent curbs on machines that the government branded a “social blight”.

RGA chief executive Clive Hawkswood is thought to be determined to get the measure approved by the gambling industry before he steps down in January.

It requires agreement from the National Casino Forum, Association of British Bookmakers, Bingo Association and the amusement arcade body Bacta, although their blessing is likely to be a formality as the online industry is by far the biggest TV advertiser.

The RGA has also put forward other proposals but is expected to stop short of adopting Labour’s stated policy of banning gambling companies from sponsoring football shirts.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, spokesman for campaign group Fairer Gambling, said: “This is long overdue but to be truly effective it should have also included bans on shirt and league sponsorship and pitch-side rolling displays.” – Guardian service

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