• Kishan Patel

Gambling and voluntary bans

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

The gambling industry’s efforts to promote safer gambling are inadequate and often a thin-veiled effort to drive public relations. Self-exclusion is the most effective tool for individuals to regain control of their gambling. Yet, the process to self-exclude is unnecessarily complicated, which is further compounded by issues with awareness and accessibility of self-exclusion. Moreover, the Betting and Gaming Council’s voluntary whistle-to-whistle ban has been unsuccessful despite being regularly proclaimed otherwise; not all operators volunteered, and the ban did not apply to sports sponsorships or online advertising. Without a comprehensive and mandatory ban, similar to tobacco advertising, gambling advertising will continue to shift to less regulated and less scrutinised mediums.


Summary

Over the past decade, the gambling industry has increasingly come under fire for quasi-safer gambling efforts, which appear to be driven by public relation efforts instead of a public-health approach. Some of the critical issues surrounding gambling-harm prevention include the design and characteristics of products, how gambling is conducted, and the volume and content of advertising.


The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) have widely proclaimed the success of their voluntary whistle-to-whistle (W2W) ban in reducing exposure of gambling to children. The W2W ban meant that operators who are part of the BGC group voluntarily opted out of displaying gambling ads in TV commercial breaks during and immediately surrounding sports fixtures except for horse-racing. However, the W2W ban did not apply to all licensed UK operators, nor did it affect sports sponsorships or advertising through other media channels such as online.


Moreover, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the BGC responded to gambling advertising concerns by voluntarily committing to remove all TV and radio advertising for six weeks. In this period, ads were replaced with social responsibility messages, advising customers to gamble responsibly, and thus, were widely criticised as thinly veiled adverts. Like tobacco advertising, without a comprehensive and mandatory ban, advertising will simply be displaced to less regulated and less scrutinised marketing areas such as online advertising or sponsorships.


The most effective tool that individuals that gamble can utilise to regain control is self-exclusion, whereby individuals can opt-out of gambling. Self-exclusion still faces issues with awareness, accessibility, and in the past, coverage too. Notably, self-exclusion does not affect marketing. Since April 2016, the Gambling Commission has required all non-remote operators in the land-based arcade, betting, bingo, and casino sectors to participate in multi-operator self-exclusion schemes. Before multi-operator schemes were mandated for as a licensing requirement, self-exclusion was limited to individual operators and could easily be circumvented. All self-exclusion schemes, except for betting shops and online gambling, require an individual to enter a betting venue or contact the gambling industry, thus significantly reducing accessibility for those suffering from a compulsion to gamble. It should also be noted that the scheme for online gambling only became mandatory in March 2020, despite initially being announced in June 2017 and released for use in 2018.


What is known?


Whistle to whistle ban

  • What is covered

  • TV commercial ads 5 minutes before, during and 5 minutes after sports broadcasts before 9pm 127

  • TV = 15% of all industry marketing spend; 80% is spent online 57

  • What is excluded

  • sponsorships

  • online casino’s, lotteries, bingo, poker, and scratch cards

  • non-BGC gambling companies which are not subject to the voluntary commitment

  • ads during horse racing and greyhound racing

  • Significance of sport sponsorships

  • Frequencies of gambling sponsorship references in sports per broadcast minute 128 (Percentage of marketing references that were commercial ad breaks)

  • Boxing: 4.70 (0%)

  • Football: 2.75 (2%)

  • Rugby Union: 0.55 (0%

  • Tennis: 0.11 (12%)

  • Formula 1: 0.00 (0%)

  • Issues with industry interpretation of evidence 129

  • Industry claim: the “whistle to whistle” ban has slashed the amount of TV gambling ads seen by 4 to 17 year olds by 97 per cent.

  • Reality: From Aug - EOY 2018 to August - EOY 2019, BGC results show that the total number of gambling ads views across all TV channels fell by 11.3% (15, 222 million views to 13, 499 million views)

COVID-19 TV & Radio ban

  • Industry claim: BGC members to remove TV and radio gaming product advertising during covid-19 lockdown 130

  • What was proposed

  • To be implemented for six weeks, by no later than Thursday 7th May 2020, and remain in force until 5th June 2020 (4 weeks)

  • Existing TV and radio advertising for casino, slots and bingo to be replaced by safer gambling messages, donated to charities or removed from broadcast where contracts permit

  • BGC members currently account for around 50 per cent of all gambling advertising on TV and radio.

  • Criticisms 131

  • BGC criticised for running thinly veiled ads as social messages which still feature the widely criticised “When the FUN stops, stop”.

  • Online casino Mr Green, a brand owned by William Hill, aired a safer gambling message which ended “Enjoy award-winning online casino with Mr Green”.

  • A message from SkyVegas also said “That’s why I play at SkyVegas”,

  • A Paddy Power message aired on Comedy Central didn’t seem to contain any safer gambling advice at all.

Multi-operator self-exclusion schemes

  • Online: GAMSTOP

  • Option 1

  • Verify email

  • Complete online form

  • Arcades: British Amusement Catering Trade Association (BACTA)

  • Option 1

  • Attend local Adult Gaming Centre

  • Option 2

  • Phone BACTA

  • Betting: MOSES part of the Betting Gaming Council

  • Option 1

  • Phone MOSES

  • Send a copy of photo ID and a recent photo by post or by email

  • Bingo: Bingo Association

  • Option 1

  • Attend local bingo

  • Option 2

  • Telephone local venue or contact them by their website

  • Option 3

  • Contact bingo association who will provide telephone number for their venue (leads to Option 2)

  • Casino: Betting and Gaming Council

  • Option 1

  • Attend a local casino

  • Option 2

  • Download and print enrolment application form

  • Fill in the form

  • Scan or take a digital picture of the completed form

  • Send an email to BGC with:

  • Completed enrolment application form

  • A recent photo

  • A photocopy of your driving license or passport

  • Proof of your current home address

What the industry said?


Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting Gaming Council 132


“And all adults who open a new gambling account are asked at the outset if they want to opt in to marketing and advertising. If they do opt in but change their mind and want to take a break or self-exclude, tools are available online to pause or stop receiving marketing.”


Dugher suggests that adults with accounts with operators have control of whether they receive gambling marketing and advertising. Although this may be true for direct marketing, there is not much that can be done to prevent those who suffer from gambling addiction from being exposed to the sheer volume of non-direct marketing online and offline.

Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting Gaming Council 133


“The success of the whistle to whistle ban – which has reduced the number of TV betting commercials seen by children during live sport pre-watershed by 97 per cent – is a perfect example of what we can achieve together.”


Simmonds uses the industry-funded research statistic of a decrease of 97% but fails to recognise that the same research partner, Enders Analysis, has reported that industry efforts have been an ‘inadequate solution to online harm’. Moreover, the overall number of gambling ads on TV fell by around 10%.


Gambling Commission 134


“It is up to you to stick to your self-exclusion agreement, but if you try to gamble during that time the gambling business should take reasonable steps to prevent you from doing so. Once you have made a self-exclusion agreement, the gambling company must close your account and return any money in your account to you. It must also remove your name and details from any marketing databases it uses.”


According to the Gambling Commission, responsibility for prevention of gambling still falls on customers who have identified that they have a compulsion to gambling and need help to stop them from doing so. Moreover, little consideration has been given to the fact that self-exclusion processes are inaccessible and burdensome, often requiring individuals to attend a gambling venue or contact the industry to exclude.


Peter Jackson, CEO of Flutter Entertainment 135


“It has been suggested in recent weeks that football clubs should be banned from carrying sponsorship by betting brands. But, unlike tobacco, gambling is not inherently harmful for an individual if done responsibly and commensurately with someone’s financial means.”


Jackson suggests that gambling should not be considered in the same way as tobacco as not everyone who gambles will suffer harm. Here, Jackson fails to recognise that the magnitude of quality-of-life harm accrued from gambling on a population level is expected to be as significant as the harm accrued by tobacco use, and just like tobacco, gambling is a harmful and addictive product.


Lord Browne, House of Lords debate 23/11/17 136

“My first engagement with online gambling came in 2014, when I responded to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act, which was narrowly concerned with online gambling. During the debates on the Bill I argued that online problem gamblers are discriminated against because they cannot access one of the main protections for problem gamblers—self-exclusion—on anything resembling a level playing field with offline problem gamblers.


In response to this I proposed, through amendments, multi-operator self-exclusion, whereby the online problem gambler needs to self-exclude only once with the Gambling Commission or its nominated body, and all online sites with a Gambling Commission licence are required to respect the self-exclusion. On Report the Government announced that they were finally persuaded of the need for multi-operator self-exclusion but explained that they did not want to implement it on a statutory basis. I was asked to withdraw my amendment on the basis that the Government had asked the Gambling Commission to introduce multi-operator self-exclusion and it would make substantial progress towards its realisation in the next six months. Mindful of the Government’s willingness to compromise, I decided to withdraw my amendment. In June this year it was finally announced that the Remote Gambling Association would run multioperator self-exclusion—or MOSES, as it is now referred to—for the Gambling Commission, and that it would be called GAMSTOP and would be up and running by the end of the year.


As we address this subject nearly four years later, I make the following points. …


First, it is regrettable that nearly four years on from when the commitment was made we still do not have multi-operator self-exclusion up and running. We cannot afford to waste any more time”


Lord Browne reflects on the influence of industry on Government and the shortfalls of voluntary commitments to reduce or prevent gambling-harm.


Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) 137


"We will implement a ban on credit cards and indeed our members will go further to study and improve the early identification of those at risk,"


"The use of credit cards were previously used as a potential marker of harm which might lead to further intervention with customers."


When the Gambling Commission announced that it would introduce a ban on the use of credit cards from the 14th of April 2020, Simmonds stated that they would implement the ban. Simmonds also reflects that previously, signs of harmful gambling were indicated through credit cards, were used to help stratify customers such that intervention may be considered. However, it is unclear what interventions would look like and if they would be helpful or meaningful.


References

57. REGULUS PARTNERS. Industry Advertising spend 2014-2017. Available from: https://www.begambleaware.org/media/1853/2018-11-24-rp-ga-gb-marketing-spend-infographic-final.pdf [Accessed: 28th February 2021]

127. Betting & Gaming Council. ‘Whistle to whistle’ ban success. Betting & Gaming Council. 21 August 2020. Available from: https://bettingandgamingcouncil.com/news/whistle-to-whistle-ban-dramatically-reduces-number-of-betting-adverts-seen-by-children [Accessed: 31st March 2021]

129. Betting & Gaming Council. Review of Voluntary Whistle-to-Whistle Advertising Restrictions. Betting & Gaming Council. 2021.

130. Betting & Gaming Council. BGC Members to Remove TV and Radio Gaming Product Advertising During COVID-19 Lockdown. Betting & Gaming Council. 27 April 2020. Available from: https://bettingandgamingcouncil.com/news/gaming-advertising-removed [Accessed: 31st March 2021]

131. Davies R. Gambling firms’ social messages are ‘thinly veiled’ adverts, say MPs. The Guardian. 10 May 2020. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/10/gambling-firms-social-messages-are-thinly-veiled-adverts-say-mps [Accessed: 31st March 2021]

132. Dugher M. Lockdown is easing and live sport returning, but the commitment to safer gambling must continue. Politics Home. 5 June 2020. Available from: https://www.politicshome.com/members/article/lockdown-is-easing-and-live-sport-returning-but-the-commitment-to-safer-gambling-must-continue [Accessed: 30th March 2021]

133. Simmonds B. Looking ahead to another year of progress in promoting safer gambling. Available from: https://bettingandgamingcouncil.com/news/brigid-simmonds-looking-ahead [Accessed: 30th March 2021]

134. Gambling Commission. Self-exclusion. Available from: https://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/for-the-public/Safer-gambling/Self-exclusion.aspx [Accessed: 30th March 2021]

135. Jackson P. Why a review of gambling laws is badly needed - Flutter chief executive. Racing Post. 10 November 2020. Available from: https://www.racingpost.com/news/gambling-review-long-overdue-to-reflect-drastic-changes-in-the-betting-landscape/458481 [Accessed: 30th March 2021]]

136. Gambling With Lives. Expanded Answers to Committee Questions: House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry (25th February 2020). 2020. Available from: https://238317bb-a8fb-4ec4-89e8-33db4ae69de7.filesusr.com/ugd/c47eec_125a5181f41f4e1a8b1ad6d3b5f58f67.pdf [Accessed 31st March 2021]

137. iGaming Business. Gambling Commission confirms credit card ban from April. iGaming Business. 14 January 2020. Available from: https://igamingbusiness.com/gambling-commission-confirms-credit-card-ban-from-april/ [Accessed: 30th March 2021]