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Eyes down for a full House

MaggieJones2011.JPGMaggie Jones explains the rationale behind Labour’s ‘watershed’ amendment to the Gambling Bill 

For many years my mother was a bingo addict. Every Saturday night, and sometimes other nights, she would attend the local bingo hall. Sometimes I was persuaded to tag along with her. Like many other women of her generation, bingo provided a safe, social environment where friendships flourished. Similarly, when my father wanted to place a bet on a horse race he would go to the dark, smoke-filled betting shop where women were rarely seen or encouraged, and betting on other sporting events was rare.

In recognition of their social contribution, the 2005 Gambling Act prompted the exemption of betting on bingo and televised sporting events from the overall ban on gambling adverts. But since then the world of gambling has changed beyond recognition. On-line bingo has taken off – with none of the attributes of club based bingo. Instead it is solitary, repetitive and addictive.

It is now possible to watch sports programmes 24/7, with on-line opportunities not only to bet compulsively on match outcomes but also on the first no ball, the first corner, the first goal scorer. All of this has been exacerbated by the expansion of spread betting with high stakes, high returns and high losses. Sadly, viewers of sporting events now find themselves bombarded with instant, on-line betting offers in the ad breaks.

Equally, the spread of on-line gambling adverts has now invaded social media websites, targeting young people with tempting free joining offers which turn out to be anything but free.

Labour’s amendment to the Gambling Bill, to be debated on Tuesday, recognises that the world of remote gambling has changed dramatically since 2005, with advertisements promoting these services being shown throughout the day – frequently before the 9pm watershed. 

The exemptions allowing adverts for bingo and sports betting, combined with the new social media opportunities, have become major loopholes which the on-line gambling companies all too readily exploit. The result, as the Minister handling the bill in the Lords, has already admitted, is that gambling adverts have risen from half a million in 2008 to one and a half million in 2012, and it continues to rise.

Of course, these adverts are not predominantly targeted at children, and there are Codes of Practice from the Advertising Standards Authority and others that prevent companies exploiting young people or appealing directly to them.

But that isn’t the point. The fact of the matter is that children are being increasingly exposed to remote gambling adverts as they watch sporting fixtures or other daytime programmes. Anyone switching on morning or afternoon TV, as I did over Christmas, will see a relentless bombardment of ads for on-line bingo presented as an entertaining pastime with no mention of the dangers of addiction. Often these programmes are watched by children without adults present, and we know from other studies how susceptible they can be to adverts. That is why there are restrictions on other types of pre-watershed ads.

The truth is that we do not yet have an accurate picture of the scale of the problem, but we know that daytime adverts on TV and social media are both multiplying and becoming more sophisticated. This is why we are calling on the Culture Secretary to consult on the impact of these ads on children and report the findings to Parliament. It is in all our interests that we understand the scale and impact of such exposure to gambling before it’s too late to act.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is a Shadow DCMS Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 1st March 2014 

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