There have been a couple of big stories in the last few months for the gambling sector. Firstly, online gambling companies have voluntarily agreed to stop showing betting adverts during live sport. Secondly, the BBC has uncovered serious failings with the effectiveness of self-exclusion schemes such as Gamstop. We go into more detail on these stories below.
Betting adverts banned on a "whistle-to-whistle" basis
Following an agreement in principle by the Remote Gambling Association, which includes some of Britain's biggest gambling companies like Bet365, Paddy Power and Ladbrokes, the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling ("IGRG") announced major changes to the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (the "Code") to impose a "whistle to whistle" ban on advertising during pre-watershed live televised sport. This will cover broadcasts that start prior to the 9pm watershed and include those that end after that time (7:45pm and 8.00pm kick-offs, the usual evening fixture times in British football, will therefore be covered). The ban will apply 5 minutes before the event begins and 5 minutes after.
A press release by the IGRG also states that "Additional measures include an end to betting adverts around highlight shows and re-runs, and an end to pre-watershed bookmaker sponsorship of sports programmes."
It is expected that the ban will be introduced in the summer of 2019 and will cover all sports, except for horse racing and greyhound racing programmes (given the importance of the betting industry to their commercial viability).
Although the ban is sure to have an impact on the revenues generated by gambling companies and broadcast platforms selling advertising space to those companies, these measures are a welcome move for those seeking to ensure safer a gambling environment. It starts to address some concerns relating to the pervasive effect of gambling advertising, particularly on children and will hopefully help to reduce under-age gambling. Whilst advertising rules state that gambling advertisements must not be of appeal to under 18s, a 2018 Gambling Commission report found that 1.7% of children aged 11-16 are problem gamblers (equivalent to 55,000 children). This is in addition to the estimated 430,000 adult problem gamblers identified in a separate 2017 Gambling Commission report.
As a result, there have also been calls, particularly from the political sphere, to extend the restrictions to shirt sponsorship. So far, the gambling industry has resisted such calls. Given that a large number of Premier League and Championship football clubs have gambling companies as shirt sponsors, it is understandable that the gambling industry does not want to relinquish the huge revenue such sponsorship generates. However, political pressure and public opinion may eventually force their hand.
Are self-exclusion schemes fit for purpose?
Self-exclusion is a facility to help people who want to stop gambling (for example, if a person is spending too much time or money on gambling). Self-exclusion requires gambling operators to support the individual's decision once they have been notified. There are different options available for different types of gambling. Gamblers can register their details and select the period of self-exclusion with the intention that they can then no longer access gambling websites.
However, a recent BBC investigation has called into question the effectiveness of such schemes. In investigating a free and independent self-exclusion scheme for people with online gambling problems, which was launched by Gamstop in April 2018, the BBC has found that those registered on this scheme have still been able to sign up to online betting platforms with relative ease. Through changing their details, such as using a different email address and misspelling their name, gamblers can bypass the system and continue gambling.
The BBC also uncovered issues with the Multi-Operator Self Exclusion Scheme, where problem gamblers self-exclude centrally with more than one operator. Despite self-excluding from 21 betting shops in Grimsby, a BBC producer was still able to place bets in 19 of them.
Whilst no-one would question the positive intention behind self-exclusion schemes, they must be fit for purpose and be able to withstand deliberate attempts to cheat them.
The Gambling Commission have been working towards creating a safer gambling environment. They have a current open consultation on the national strategy to implement a framework to measure and reduce gambling-related harms. The Gambling Commission is seeking views until 15 February 2019. They have also recently closed a consultation at the end of November 2018 in relation to strengthening age and identity verification for online gambling. It is hoped that more robust ID checks at the point of registration will help to reduce the risk of underage gambling and could also assist in preventing individuals (who provide incorrect personal information) from circumventing self-exclusion schemes.
Time will tell if stricter ID checks will be sufficient to close some of the loopholes in self-exclusion schemes.
For more information on these topics, please contact Sonal Patel Oliva or your usual contact within Fieldfisher's Brand Development Team.
Co-authored by Dominic Tyler.