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The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s advice on the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms 2019–2022

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s advice on the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms 2019–2022

  1. Contents
  2. Part 3 - Prevention
  3. Gambling marketing and advertising

Gambling marketing and advertising

Any comprehensive prevention strategy needs to look carefully at the potential for harm associated with gambling marketing and advertising. A very large increase in the volume of such marketing and advertising is one of the more obvious developments since the 2005 Act. The greatest increase in recent years has been online – £747million was spent marketing online in 2017.37 Operators now spend five times more on online marketing than they do on television advertising.

There is no clear published evidence that greater exposure to gambling advertising has led to measurable increases in gambling-related harms.38 But the absence of proof is not, of course, proof of absence.39 We share the concerns that have been expressed about the potential impact of this exposure to gambling marketing and advertising. We have also yet to fully understand how marketing and advertising are linked to the rise in so called ‘gamblification’ of football and other sports.40 The innovative and fast-moving nature of the gambling industry means that considerable harm could have been caused before robust evidence of its causes is available.

Our concerns focus on three main groups:

Children and young people

Although the number of television advertisements children see has decreased,41 overall exposure is still high. A Gambling Commission survey shows 66% of 11 to 16-year-olds42 recall having seen gambling advertising on television, 59 per cent on social media websites and 53% on other websites.4312 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds follow gambling companies on social media. 7% of children who had seen gambling advertisements or sponsorship report that they had been prompted to spend money on gambling when they were not otherwise planning to do so.44 This equates to 5% of all 11 to 16-year-olds, or around 200,000 in total.45 There is also evidence in international literature of young people saying that advertising creates a context that makes them believe that they cannot enjoy sport without betting.46

18 to 21-year-olds

There is a high incidence of new onset problem gambling between the ages of 18 and 20.47 It is likely that a complex range of factors are responsible. Exposure to high volumes of advertising and marketing in childhood and adolescence could be one of them. In the absence of evidence, we do not know.

Exposure to marketing and advertising is a particular difficulty by people experiencing or recovering from problematic gambling at a stage when they are highly vulnerable to harm and struggling to control their gambling behaviour.48

The precautionary principle might suggest targeted action to reduce exposure to gambling marketing and advertising for all these groups – particularly children, who in an ideal world should not be exposed to it at all. But the widespread nature of online marketing, sponsorship and advertising, particularly at sports events, and the range of media where this content currently appears, makes such action challenging in practice.

This does not, however, mean that a blanket ban on gambling marketing and advertising is the only available policy response. There are other, more targeted steps which could be worth considering as part of a new approach to prevention. For example:

  • gambling late at night is known to be associated with gambling-related harm.49 Restricting the amount of volume of marketing and advertising at night could be a proportionate, targeted application of a precautionary approach
  • more generally, one of the most significant steps in reducing tobacco-related harm was legislation which prohibited smoking in public places. This legislation does not prevent people from smoking. But it does restrict the places where smoking takes place, so that other people’s freedom not to smoke is protected. Equivalent ‘gambling-free’ legislation could play a role by creating spaces, including online, where children and families are not exposed to marketing and advertising related to gambling. The recently announced voluntary ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban by Remote Gambling Association members on gambling advertisements during broadcast sports events is one example of this approach. We note, however, that advertising hoardings and shirt and programme sponsorship will remain highly visible on television during sports events, reducing any effect from the ban
  • some advertising industry practices could, with advantage, be looked at more closely. For example, selling advertising space in bundles means that, to secure a desirable advertising slot, operators sometimes need also to purchase other less desirable slots, thus increasing the proliferation of such marketing
  • countervailing safer gambling messaging is at present very limited in nature. Just telling people to ‘gamble responsibly’ is unlikely to be very effective; and some existing messages have had a tendency to foreground the ‘fun’ elements of gambling rather than the potential risks, losses and harms. It would be important to pilot different forms of messaging as part of a coherent strategy, drawing on expertise from behavioural insights, advertisers, researchers, individuals who gamble and their families.


37 This figure excludes affiliate marketing and on social media. Gambling Advertising and Marketing Spend 2014- 17 (opens in a new tab) Regulus Partners, 2018

38 Gambling Advertising: A critical review (opens in a new tab) Per Binde, 2014. Further research on this topic will shortly be published by the University of Sterling and Ipsos MORI (opens in a new tab)

39 Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (opens in a new tab) US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health, Altman and Bland, 1995

40 Beyond the betting shop: Youth, masculinity and the growth of online sports gambling (opens in a new tab), University of Bath, Darragh McGhee, June 2018

41 Children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads, ASA, February 2019

42 Young people and gambling (PDF) - a research study among 11–16-year-olds in England, Scotland and Wales, Gambling Commission, November 2018

43 Exposure within television broadcasts is also prominent. Research showed that gambling logos or branding appeared on between 71% and 89% of the running time of Match of the Day (the BBC’s Premier League highlights show). Frequency, duration and medium of advertisements for gambling and other risky products in commercial and public service broadcasts of English Premier League football (opens in a new tab) Rebecca Cassidy and Niko Ovenden, Goldsmiths, University of London, August 2017

44 Young people and gambling (PDF) - a research study among 11-16-year-olds in England, Scotland and Wales, November 2018

45 Based on Office for National Statistics 2017 mid-year estimates – subject to some caveats e.g. how representative the survey results are of 11-16 year-olds in forms of education which do not take part in the omnibus survey

46 Young people’s awareness of the timing and placement of gambling advertisement on traditional and social platform: a study of 11–16 year-olds in Australia (PDF) (opens in a new tab), Samantha Thomas et al, Harm Reduction Journal, 2018

47 Gambling and problem gambling among young adults: insights from a longitudinal study of parents and children (PDF) (opens in a new tab) David Forrest and Ian McHale, September 2018

48 Gambling Advertising: A critical review (opens in a new tab) Per Binde. 2014

49 Using grounded theory to understand problem gambling and harm minimisation opportunities in remote gambling (opens in a new tab) Dr Jonathan Park & Dr Adrian Parke, Sophro & University of Lincoln, 2018

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Families and others affected by someone else’s gambling
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Existing protections for children and young people
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