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Raymond Snoddy 

Betting on a future for TV without gambling ads

Betting on a future for TV without gambling ads

Following news that the Government is considering banning gambling logos from sports shirts, Ray Snoddy looks at the problematic relationship between gambling and media

One of the most insidious changes in British television over recent years has been the gradual march of gambling sponsorship and advertising in all its forms.

Suddenly, the screen seems soaked with invitations to bet on the outcome of a football match, who scores the next goal, or even who wins the next corner.

It is implied –more than implied- that you don’t really care and you are not a real supporter if you haven’t got a bet on it.

And it's possible to see a television programme with a different online gambling advertisement in every ad break, including some specifically tailored for women who tend to be more sensible than men in this respect.

For someone for whom gambling means annual family bets on the Grand National and decreasingly frequent purchases of National Lottery tickets as the insurmountable odds sink, this is a new world.

It is a world that can result in shouting at the screen more often than denouncing the activities of wretched referees.

Over the years. there has also been an accompanying tune, rising in pitch, on programmes such as You and Yours and Women’s Hour on Radio 4, emphasising the real harm resulting from the siren voices encouraging you to ‘go on and have a bet’.

The stories cover both tragedies faced by individual punters and misdemeanours by multi-billion pound betting companies, prepared to entice people to their doom often in breach of the agreed rules.

There are stories of suicides and people losing their homes as a result of an addiction that is often stoked by deliberate grooming of “good” or as they term really bad losers, “ VIP” customers.

The nature of the problem – the all-pervasive nature of the problem – flows, as do so many social changes for good or ill- from the internet.

There was also the problems of the politicians and Labour’s great gambling deregulation Act of 2005, which let gambling rip with the apparently attractive aim of decoupling the industry from crime.

At one stage, the Labour Government was promoting the possibility of eight super casinos even though that was eventually reduced to one.

In all of this, the media has a responsibility even if it is not the prime culprit.

It is the media by endless repetition that has normalised gambling as something that people simply do to spice up their lives – even more so in the midst of a pandemic.

All the exhortations to ‘Stop When It Stops Being Fun’ seem like spitting into the wind.

At last the seriousness of the problem is being realised and action taken.

The Gambling Commission has just imposed new curbs on the more addictive aspects of online slot machines, where “players” can still bet thousands of pounds a minute.

Such online slot machines are generating more than £2 billion a year in profit for online casinos.

The Commission has set new rules that come in from October, limiting the speed of the games and ending automatic settings that allow gamblers to effortlessly play multiple times.

There will also be an end to the disgraceful practice of players receiving winning sounds and signals even when they have lost.

The Government is also planning legislation next year to reform the 2005 Act – the call for evidence expires on 31 March 31.

According to the Sunday Times, sport could be about to face, in the most difficult of times, as big a threat to its finances as the ban on tobacco advertising.

The Government, according to the newspaper, is considering banning gambling logos from sports shirts, a move that would seriously affect not just football but rugby, snooker, darts and boxing.

Serious sums of money are involved, with Premier League and Championship clubs receiving more than £100 million a year in such shirt sponsorship.

Half of all Premier League clubs have shirt logos sponsored by gambling organisations and no less than 16 out of 24 Championship clubs.

The problem is obvious. Such logos are part of the immersion and normalisation process.

Unlike the controls that can be applied by the 9pm watershed, such logos are broadcast to all ages and at any time of the day or evening and are impossible to ignore, at least subliminally.

It’s time that sports shirts, broadcast into every home, should be purified of any products that can do demonstrable harm.

The days are gone alas, when Barcelona gave up player shirts to UNICEF but the club now gets £47 million a year from the Japanese e-commerce and SVOD company, Rakuten.

If betting logos are banned then sports clubs will probably have two or three years to get used to the change and find more acceptable sponsors, even if they are less lucrative.

Detailed rules on what forms of gambling be allowed in the digital age are matters for politicians and regulators.

What is clear is that research on addictive behaviour has found that not only is gambling advertising widespread on television in the UK but also that “potentially hazardous gambling messages are common” - particularly in the case of online casino advertisements.

A 2019 study by Hakansson and Widinghoff of six commercial channels in the UK found that 19% of advertisements, 11-28% across different channels, promoted gambling.

Online casinos were by far the most common form of gambling promoted.

Apart from the identification “of several risky messages”, the study found that online casinos targeted female audiences, as well as emphasising the speed and ease of such gambling.

So the question has to be asked -  should television gambling advertisements simply be banned?

It is a hell of a time to be asking such a question but before any such action were to be implemented the pandemic should be over or reduced to manageable proportions.

An outright ban is probably too extreme – at least for now.

But there is a strong case for reducing frequency so that every ad break in a single drama does not hit you over the head with ads for competing online casino ads.

One per programme, maximum, of ads purged of potentially risky language might be a start.

You could then move, over time, to a single ad per evening between 9pm and midnight while watching football without having gambling logo close- ups thrust in your face.

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