UK government under attack over evidence led to rollback of gambling advertising ban

The government has been criticized for claiming it took the decision to backtrack on a ban on gambling advertising because there was little evidence that it caused harm to users.

Speaking before the Culture, Media and Sport Commission on Tuesday, Minister for Sport, Gambling and Civil Society Stuart Andrew told MPs the government had taken an evidence-based approach to reform. He also conceded, however, that there was a need for much better research into the effects of gambling and its harm.

We rely heavily on the evidence [and] there is little evidence that exposure to advertising alone causes people to experience harm in the game, Andrew said. Once we have the research, if there’s more evidence that proves advertising is causing harm, then we’ll look into that.

The government’s assessment was disputed by a leading gambling damage expert. The evidence is clear that advertising for gambling drives consumption, which increases harm, said Dr Matt Gaskell, a consultant psychologist who runs the NHS’s gambling service in the north.

This is well known internationally and, as a result, many European countries have taken steps to protect their communities with strict restrictions on advertising. Our children, youth and those who are harmed or recovering continue to be exposed to omnipresent gambling advertising, and the government has chosen to expose them to harm.

A comprehensive review of research on gambling advertising, published in Public Health in February, called for restrictions on advertising. While the investigators acknowledged significant limitations in the evidence base, they found: In the absence of definitive controlled studies, the substantial and consistent evidence base supports restrictions to reduce exposure to gambling advertising.

The demands of broadcasters that derive substantial revenues from gambling advertising are considered a factor influencing the government’s thinking in what Andrew acknowledged is a sometimes very difficult debate. The government, meanwhile, points to plans to limit direct marketing to gambling customers and a voluntary ban on front-of-shirt sponsorship by the Premier League as signs that clubs are responding to the problem.

One issue that has affected the quality of research is the scarcity of funding, especially outside that provided directly or indirectly by the gaming industry. Many surveys in the UK are currently paid for through the industry funded Gamble Aware. The government says it plans to change this system when a proposed statutory tax on bookmakers comes into effect, with revenues set aside for government-sanctioned research.

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Andrew insisted that a new regulatory regime will be in place by the previously proposed date, summer 2024. We need more research… to understand this important work, he said regarding gambling harm. We want to have much better research and evidence, and when the research shows there’s more work to be done in an area, we’re more than happy to do it.

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