Politician Calls for Ban on All Gambling Ads in UK

Roulette being played on laptops, tablets, and phones
Politicians in the UK are debating whether gambling ads should be totally banned.

30-second summary

  • Politician Lord Kirkhope says ban will protect children
  • Problem gambling should be seen as a public health issue
  • Kirkhope was behind push to ban TV ads in the 90s
  • Says Labour government should not have liberalized sector
  • Government already bringing in new measures to curb harm

Conservative politician renews push for ban

Lord Timothy Kirkhope, a Conservative politician, has renewed his drive to ban all gambling ads, everywhere. He said banning gambling advertisements was necessary to protect children.

Kirkhope has a seat in the House of Lords, the UK’s second tier of parliament. Addressing the Lords on January 16, he asked the government to clarify its current policy on gambling ads.

The politician was the House of Commons government minister for gambling matters in the Conservative government of the early 1990s. At that time, he wanted to ban gambling ads on TV but was unable to get the measure passed.

Says liberalization caused problems

Kirkhope claimed that the Labour government’s liberalization of the gambling sector led to today’s problems – record numbers of gambling addicts, including 55,000 children. The number of child gambling addicts has increased fourfold since 2016. It is estimated that 450,000 children aged 11-16 regularly gamble.

He said: “Sadly, in 2005 the Labour Government of that time totally liberalized this and we ended up with a great and continuing problem. We now have a total of £234m [$303m] of advertising revenue from gambling on television.”

Kirkham added that he was delighted that the gambling industry had volunteered to implement the new whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling adverts. But he said more needs to be done.

Government response

Lord Ashton, who has a role in the department for digital, culture, media, and sport (DCMS), pointed out that the government is dealing with problem gambling. TV ads must now carry warnings about the risks of betting, and the government is funding more clinics for gambling addiction.

The DCMS has also spent millions of pounds to educate consumers via its own advertising campaigns. And it pressured the gambling sector on the whistle-to-whistle ban.

Ashton said he wanted video gaming and app companies to be licensed to offer skins and loot boxes, where players can gamble for in-game prizes. For the most part, these cannot be converted into cash, but loot boxes are most frequently offered in games that appeal to children.

He said: “We are seeking to work with the video games industry to raise awareness of that and explore solutions. It is a new issue of which we are taking account.”

Currently, the UKGC has ruled that loot boxes are not a form of gambling but skin betting is, and an illicit one.

Kirkhope responded: “While I welcome the Government’s position and the way in which they are taking initiatives, including its whistle-to-whistle voluntary agreement, I am still very concerned that any review has no real timescale. Will my noble friend the Minister therefore give us some indication of whether there will be a timescale to a further review?”

A public health issue

Increasingly, gambling is seen as a public health issue because of the social harms caused by problem gambling. Politicians in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons are continuing to keep up the pressure on betting companies. Many believe gambling ads will end up being banned, much as cigarette ads are now illegal.

The DCMS and the regulator, the UK Gambling Commission, are working to limit the frequency of gambling ads beyond the whistle-to-whistle ban during live sporting events. Both parties are ready to impose ever bigger fines on betting companies who fail to act responsibly.

The government’s recent decision to fund more gambling addiction clinics has also been widely welcomed.