Michael Dugher: Gambling ads not singled out by consumers

The viewing public find advertising to be ‘annoying’ in general, not gambling advertising in particular, according to Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) Chief Executive Michael Dugher.

Writing in parliamentary magazine The House, the BGC CEO, and former Shadow Secretary of State for the DCMS, criticised ‘prohibitionists from the anti-gambling lobby’, although acknowledged that the industry is ‘reassured’ by the ‘evidence-based approach’ followed by ministers.

Gambling advertising has been earmarked as a key area for overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act, with betting company sponsorships of sports teams and television commercials focused in particular.

Advocates of gaming law reform have identified industry advertising as a cause of gambling related harm, whilst also citing the potential influence of marketing over children and the issues this can cause.


Dugher, however, criticised the views of such reformists, referencing the Campaign Against Gambling Ads’ (CAGA) bus tour of the UK calling for an end to gambling advertising and sponsorships. 

In response, the CEO spoke to a team of pollsters and focus groups specialists’, who were also visiting various locations around the country to collect public opinion on gambling.

Detailing the group’s comments on public perceptions of gambling advertising, Dugher explained: “The reply from one veteran top political numbers man was: ‘They just find it annoying’. I then followed up and said: ‘Gambling advertising in particular?’ He replied: ‘No. All advertising.’”

He added: “It has been (outrageously) suggested by prohibitionists that the regulated industry tries to exploit football’s popularity to encourage under-18s to gamble.”

Dugher further referred to the comments of DCMS Secretary John Whittingdale, who is overseeing the review of the Gambling Act, made earlier this month. Speaking to parliament, the Secretary remarked that the link between advertising and betting ‘did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling’.

Whittingdale supported his statement with an academic study commissioned by the English Football League (EFL), in which Professor Ian McHale of the University of Liverpool found ‘no evidence’ of betting industry marketing having any influence over consumers participation in the activity.

Dugher has continued to assert that both academic and statistical evidence suggests that there is little connection between gambling related harm and industry advertising, citing UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) research which found that the main types of gambling conducted by those under the age of 16 are private bets between friends, fruit machines, card games and scratchcards. 

These activities fall outside the remit of licenced betting operators, disputing the CAGA’s claim reiterated on its recent tour that up to 450,000 children gamble regularly. 

Dugher added: “Whilst this is undoubtedly an issue, this is not children induced by advertising betting on football with regulated operators as some campaigners seem to suggest.”

According to the UKGC statistics discussed by the BGC Chief, the number of young people admitting to gambling in the previous week fell from 23% in 2011 to 11% in 2019. Meanwhile, the overall proportion of bettors assessed as being at ‘medium risk of harm’ declined from 1.4% to 0.7% since the end of last year, with the UK’s problem gambling rate remaining consistent year-on-year at 0.4%.

Daughter also took the opportunity to reiterate the betting industry’s current responsibility initiatives and an updated code of conduct announced earlier this year. Under the new code, BGC members cannot sponsor children’s football kits, voluntarily ensuring that 20% of TV and radio ads are now exclusively safer gambling messages. 

Furthermore, a whistle-to-whistle ban on advertising during football matches led to the number of betting ads during the UEFA 2020 European Championship earlier this year nearly halving. These measures, Dugher argued, are not provided by the black market industry, which he has repeatedly stated will be a major beneficiary of over-regulation of the licensed industry.

Lastly, the CEO highlighted the betting industry’s financial backing of the sporting space, with the EFL currently receiving £40 million from the betting and gaming industry whilst horseracing receives an even greater amount at £350 million.

Additionally, Betfred’s backing of rugby league through sponsorship of prominent tournaments and the financial support received by darts and snooker were also underscored.

“I certainly recognise that there must be no complacency from the industry, that many people do have genuine and sincere concerns, and that there is still much more work for us all to do,” the CEO continued.

“Problem gambling may be low, but one problem gambler is still one too many. That’s why the BGC has been determined to drive change, raise standards and promote safer gambling.”

He concluded: “Of course anti-gambling prohibitionists will keep doing what they do – calling for stuff, like all advertising, to be prohibited. And, yes, advertising may be occasionally annoying. But to say gambling advertising equals harm or is the cause behind problem gambling is just not true.”

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