Is it time for the law to rein in sports gambling advertising?Kevin Carpenter
As part of full and frank disclosure I should say at the outset of this blog that I gamble on sports (not well I hasten to add) and like doing so. Part of the reason for this being that I live in Great Britain (comprising England, Wales and Scotland), a jurisdiction I often laud for having one of the most liberal yet well regulated sports gambling sectors in the world. This reputation has been greatly enhanced since the Gambling Act 2005 came into force on 1 September 2007.
One of the key aspects of that Act was the establishment of the Gambling Commission (‘GC’) as the principal regulator of commercial gambling in Great Britain.1 Part of its mandate, or ‘licensing objectives’2, are to “[protect] young children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling”. This brings me nicely on to the subject of this blog which has been sitting heavy with me for some months: the plethora of sports gambling/betting advertising in Great Britain and other jurisdictions.
Since 2007 sports gambling has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the gambling market for a number of reasons, the driver and principal of which being the leaps and bounds in advances in technology. This has enabled betting operators to offer live in-play betting during sporting events. In Great Britain for example, viewers of live televised football matches are bombarded at half-time with numerous betting companies offering special odds on certain events happening in the second half, for instance the final score or next goal-scorer. Not only that but the shirts of the football teams playing in the televised game often carry sponsorship by gambling companies and there is almost always odds being advertised on the electronic boards around the edge of the field of play. Sports gambling advertising has become so frequent and prevalent that viewers, including myself, are beginning to get annoyed. This escalation has also made me wonder how large the effect may be on the aforementioned “young children and other vulnerable persons” who also watch televised sport? Australia, a fellow Commonwealth country, is another jurisdiction who has embraced the sports gambling culture and the advertising of it. Recent research has showed that children can name on average two or three betting firms and discuss their favourite sports teams in terms of odds.3 I think you will agree that this is extremely concerning.
Currently in Great Britain the regulatory regime for sports gambling advertising is structured as follows:
- GC licence terms require that licensees comply with the relevant advertising codes of practice – Part 16 of the Act (sections 327-333) covers advertising;
- The relevant advertising codes are the gambling sections of the Advertising Standards Authority4 (‘ASA’) CAP5 and BCAP6 Codes (‘Advertising Codes’)– the ‘Principle’ of which being that “gambling advertisements and marketing communications for gambling products are socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons under 18 and other vulnerable persons being harmed or exploited by advertising that features or promotes gambling”; and
- In addition there is the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Gaming (‘Industry Code’) published back in August 2007 – this states in essence that the rules in the Advertising Codes plus this Industry Code should be more than sufficient to meet the terms of GC licences as regards advertising – the Industry Code is also underpinned by the notion of ‘socially responsible’ advertising.
Although there are a raft of provisions in all of the above codes to promote non-misleading and socially responsible gambling advertising there is not one reference to the volume of such advertising. This failure in the rules should be considered particularly remiss given that sports betting advertising around sports events is exempted from the general ban on advertising on television before 9pm.
There is however a significant shortcoming in the current regulatory regime that is exemplified by the statistic that around 80% of online gambling in Great Britain is conducted by operators outside the jurisdiction and therefore not licensed by the GC. This was acknowledged by the UK Government in December 2012 when it published a very short draft Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill whose primary purpose is to require overseas gambling operators to obtain a GC licence in order to provide services or advertise to British-based consumers. The Bill was also contained in the recent Queen’s Speech, which sets out the measures the Government wants to get through Parliament in the year ahead.7 As the proposed legislation has passed through the process of legislative scrutiny the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, “had wider concerns about consumer protection in relation to online gambling”.8 In their report the Committee discuss the effect the new Bill will have on gambling advertising saying that Clause 2 of the Bill will repeal s.331 of the Act thereby lifting all restrictions on advertising foreign gambling. So rather than reining in the proliferation of sports gambling advertising it is set to increase! The Committee also says that the regime I set out above is working well because there has been a 96.1% reported compliance rate with the Advertising Codes. However, I stress again, there is nothing in any of the codes about the prevalence of sports gambling advertising and it is this which I believe significantly exacerbates problem gambling (most likely in sports) amongst vulnerable groups now and children for the future.
I mentioned Australia earlier and moves were afoot by MPs in the country for a complete ban on all gambling advertising and live odds updates during sports broadcasts and at stadiums.9 One member of their gambling reform committee had this to say, “Personally I think there is too much advertising and promotion. I think it is invidious to the sport and I think it is affecting younger people who are exposed to it.” This man is clearly not alone as a 20,000-signature petition has been presented to the Federal Parliament demanding action. Australia also has the additional issue of so-called “cash for comment” where commentators and guests are paid to mention gambling odds and information into their work!10 This would also have been banned under a new bill that had been drafted but broadcasters themselves have agreed to voluntarily implement new restrictions outlined by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard last week to avoid the legislation being introduced.11
Despite being a sports gambler myself I recognise the major threat of addiction and its associated ills that sports gambling can bring. Therefore I would like to see considerable restrictions on the volume of sports gambling advertising both in the media and at stadiums. Indeed I believe that in the not too distant future restrictions on sports gambling advertising will go the way tobacco and alcohol advertising did in the 1990’s and 2000’s.
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About the Author
Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.