Gambling advertising works. Like members of Gamvisory and many others, relentless marketing triggered disastrous bouts of disordered gambling throughout my twelve years of gambling addiction. Even before reaching those rock-bottom moments, the prevalence of gambling advertising, sponsorship and promotions normalised gambling to me as a child and caused brand loyalty & consumer intent.
There’s a reason why gambling advertising is so precious to the gambling industry and why in 2017 they spent £1.5billion on it, accounting for 16% of all total advertising spend. This translates into 30 billion person ‘impacts’ or viewings of gambling adverts, that is 630 per adult. More concerning was the 1.8 billion impacts on children aged 4 – 15 years old. The result of this data is that gambling is so far entrenched into society that the aggressive promotion of it becomes normal. The consequences of this is that young people are desensitized to gambling risks, disordered gamblers are encouraged to maintain their addiction and gambling is glamourised to the masses causing a public health crisis and nearly half a million addicts.
The way we see gambling ads is changing. Online and social media gambling advertising increased drastically by 76% in three years, whilst TV advertising increased at a much slower pace. This shift in the way gambling is marketed is why the Betting and Gaming Council voluntarily removed TV and radio advertising during lockdown. Gambling companies know that the most profitable way of reaching new and existing customers is increasingly not through TV adverts of Ray Winstone’s head but instead through the more sophisticated methods mentioned.
The BGC were effectively forced into reducing their TV advertising presence during lockdown thanks to pressure from the APPG on Gambling Related Harm coinciding with a recognition of harm in this unique situation from DCMS. It was hard to welcome a move that came weeks too late, but it was finally an encouraging acknowledgement by the industry that advertising causes harm.
Maybe I was naïve thinking the narrative had changed because what transpired was a spectacular display of arrogant incompetence. Upon implementation of the TV ban, gambling adverts were replaced by responsible gambling adverts. These have been tokenistic reminders to customers to set deposit limits, stay in control and ‘make a plan’, usually in a glamorous manner.
These adverts act as window dressing and as a social responsibility façade. Simply restating existing personal responsibility measures hasn’t worked and is not adequate to deal with the safer gambling challenges COVID-19 brings. At best, these have proven to have no effect in preventing harm. At worst, they direct customers to gambling sites in a time of crisis. Defenders of this practice cry that this was in the small print and these safer gambling messages were always going to occur. Telling people to ‘enjoy the award-winning online casino with Mr Green’ is not a safer gambling message and was not in the much-celebrated small print.
During this next chapter of gambling normalisation, people are still receiving targeted marketing online and young people are deceived into thinking online gambling is safe because they can always stop when the fun stops.
Only this week, a well-respected treatment provider relayed how a patient received some direct marketing, relapsed and attempted suicide. This is the horrendous truth behind gambling advertising and I’m sure the gambling industry don’t want to advertise to young and vulnerable, but the longer tokenistic measures continue, the more advertising is reaching the young and vulnerable. This latest episode is a reminder as to why self-regulation has failed and why we need to consider advertising restrictions as part of a comprehensive review of the Gambling Act.