Jake Berry: Commercial break vital for young gamblers

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OPPORTUNITIES to gamble have increased significantly in the United Kingdom in the past decade, both offline and online.

Young people today are the first generation to grow up with gambling being seen by society as an acceptable form of entertainment or leisure activity.

The proliferation of online gambling in particular, backed through blanket advertising, has brought into the home what was traditionally a male-dominated activity that took place in bookmakers.

It is my concern about these changes in attitude to gambling, particularly in the young, that has prompted me to make this proposal that the law be changed to prohibit all forms of gambling adverts from television screens before the traditional watershed at 9pm.

The number of TV gambling adverts has risen by a staggering 600 per cent since the law was changed in 2007, when the sector was deregulated. These adverts now equate to one in 24 adverts on television. Ofcom research shows that gambling commercials have rocketed from just 234,000 in 2007 to 1.4 million last year. Under-16s are on average exposed to 211 adverts a year. This figure includes children as young as four who have seen and acknowledged the adverts.

Bingo, the Lottery and football pools have always been able to advertise on television. However, the Gambling Act 2005 made a specific exemption from the more general ban on advertising before the watershed for sports betting, largely because most matches takes place before the 9pm watershed. Most sporting events attract younger viewers and recent events that I have watched have been saturated with such adverts for sports betting.

The rising number of young people who report themselves as gambling is stark. A report for the National Lottery Commission by Ipsos Mori, surveying more than 2,000 11 to 15-year-olds from 100 state-maintained schools, showed that no less than 15 per cent of young teenagers had engaged in some form of gambling in the previous week. Some two per cent of 11 to 12-year-olds and one per cent of those aged 16 to 24 are estimated to have a gambling problem. That equates to approximately 127,500 young people who report themselves as having a gambling problem or addiction in the UK today.

It is not just the young people themselves who pay the price for their addiction; it is often society in general. Problem gambling is connected with a number of negative outcomes for young people. It has been linked to poor mental health, including major depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety.

It is also linked to crime – to feed the desire to gamble – and often, unfortunately, to substance abuse. Many adults who present themselves for treatment for a gambling addiction or other problem say that their gambling started during childhood.

The most recent evidence shows that the number of people who are in danger of becoming problem gamblers in this country is nearly one million, and that the number of hardcore addicts has doubled to 500,000 in the six years since deregulation.

It could not easily have been predicted when the law changed in 2007, following the Gambling Act 2005, that the growth in smartphone technology would cause such an expansion in the gambling industry, but it is now irrefutable that the number of opportunities to gamble have proliferated, and that the law has simply failed to keep up with technology. I believe that there is a direct causal link between the deregulation of gambling, coupled with a massive increase in advertising, and the increase in the number of young people who are gambling today.

I do not wish to prevent any adult from having access to gambling, or from receiving information about it. However, it is an age-related activity, and it seems only right and proper for us to protect young people from being exposed to advertisements for what is for some, albeit a small number, an addictive and harmful activity.

Advertisements on television have great power. Young people, and indeed some adults, believe that if something is advertised on TV it is bound to be harmless. Constant advertisements for gambling condition young people to believe that it is a fun or glamorous activity; indeed, some advertisements are endorsed by celebrities. We must restrict such advertisements to adults, who are better able to weigh the odds, to understand the risks and, crucially, to deal with the consequences of any gambling losses.

Let me end by saying that I hope that, in years to come, we shall look back at gambling advertisements on television before the watershed with the same incredulity with which we now view tobacco advertising, smoking in restaurants, and people not wearing seat belts in cars. We must act now: it is time to stop gambling with the future of our young people.