BGC pledges to maintain safer gambling momentum

Michael Dugher: No evidence to support gambling advertising ban

Michael Dugher, Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has voiced his criticisms of calls for a ban on gambling advertising during the upcoming UEFA 2020 European Championship, stating that campaigners’ demands are ‘not backed up by the evidence’.

Writing in parliamentary magazine The House, Dugher referenced ITV’s recent decision to ‘significantly reduce’ the number of gambling-related advertisements shown during the continental tournament, following calls from advocates and MPs such as the Scottish National Party’s Ronnie Cowan.

These calls, he argued, are supported by little evidence, citing recent parliamentary discussions surrounding the topic of gambling regulation, which saw prominent politicians Baroness Barren, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and John Whittingdale, the recently appointed minister overseeing the review of the 2005 Gambling Act, direct criticism at the anti-gambling lobby.

In a written parliamentary answer, Baroness Barren stated that ‘overall participation in gambling has declined over the period of COVID-19 lockdowns in Great Britain’’, whilst Whittingdale citied an academic study which ‘did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling’.

Dugher also maintained that the UK’s betting industry is ‘far from complacent’ and ‘determined to keep up the momentum’ with regards to implementing change.

“This is evidenced by the way BGC members encourage their customers to set deposit limits, take time outs and, where necessary, sign up to the range of self-exclusion schemes that are out there,” he commented.

“One operator, Sky Bet, has over half a million customers who set a deposit limit on their account – enough to fill 10 capacity crowds at St James’ Park.”

Additionally, he argued that ‘strict guidelines’ regarding advertising and sponsorship – such as a betting ban on children’s football kits – as well as a commitment to ensuring 20% of TV and radio ads promote a safer gambling message, have contributed to falls in problem gambling.

Pointing to a report by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), the Chief Executive noted that problem gambling fell in 2020, whilst the rate of problem gambling stands at 0.5% and ‘has been stable for the past 20 years’.

Furthermore, Dugher addressed concerns that the regulated betting and gaming sector ‘tries to exploit football’s popularity to encourage under-18s to gamble’.

Again referring back to UKGC research, he argued that this is not the case, due to the majority of 11 to 16-year-olds making private bets, using scratchcards, playing cards and playing fruit machines, rather than betting on football with BGC member operators.

Lastly, Dugher observed that the regulator has found that the number of young people admitting to gambling in the previous week fell from 23% in 2011 to 11% in 2019.

The BGC’s long-standing argument regarding the financial support the betting and gaming industry provides to the UK’s sporting infrastructure, particularly lower league football clubs, was also reiterated.

Noting that ‘the close relationship between betting and football dates back more than 100 years through the football pools’, he went on to discuss the £40 million in funding provided to the clubs of the English Football League (EFL), highlighted in a recent Ernest & Young study.

The Chief Executive concluded: “Of course, there will also be anti-gambling campaigners – Sunday school prohibitionists and the like – who will use any excuse to repeat their calls for banning advertising.

“But serious policy-makers have to deal in evidence, not excuses. The painful reality for those who don’t like betting is that their arguments simply do not stack up.”

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