With the Labour party getting ready for its annual conference it is unsurprising that potential policies are finding their way into the news, but this year the onus seems to be on gambling in particular.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has even gone as far as to say that gambling is “a public health emergency” and it’s clear that this will be a considerable topic when the conference kicks off in Liverpool on Sunday.
Gina Clarke takes a closer look at the issues raised.
What has Labour proposed so far?
As discussed in mainstream media, Watson is publicly backing the call to introduce a number of measures to combat gambling in the UK, which he referred to as “a public health emergency”.
The comments come after the publication of an inquiry commissioned by the party, which estimates that there are around 430,000 identified gambling addicts in the UK, of which 25,000 are aged 16 or under.
Watson has said the party would seek to introduce a ban on gambling adverts from “whistle to -whistle” during sporting events. It has also suggested banning gambling with credit cards to encourage responsible gaming by users.
Ban on ads during live sports
According to Watson, advertising during sporting events has been shown to be particularly problematic among those who are inclined to fall foul of problem gambling.
Measures have already been introduced to address this type of advert, with the Committee of Advertising Practice and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice announcing a ban of adverts enticing viewers to “bet now” during live events.
However, Watson did go on to stress that the Labour party is: “not anti-gambling. We just think we need to tighten up regulations because there has been a digital revolution in these new products since the last piece of legislation. Even the industry is saying that TV advertising for in-sport betting is getting out of hand and needs dealing with.”
The ban could extend beyond TV adverts though, as this season alone around 60% of English football teams have found their sponsorship through betting companies, often overseas, who are happy to pay for their logos on premiership shirts. Studies even show that professional footballers themselves are a vulnerable group when it comes to problem gambling because of the level of exposure they experience.
The first step the Labour party would take is a voluntary removal of betting logos on the shirts, but that legislative action may be taken if clubs refused to do so voluntarily. And let’s face it, why would they give up such a lucrative income stream?
Ban credit card payments for gambling?
Watson has also suggested the party would consider restricting payments made to gaming websites to debit cards only. The aim of the restriction would be to limit funds that are available to players, although it would not solve the issue for those who are addicted to gambling and have the budget to do so.
Watson has claimed: “Current gambling regulation is not up to the job of protecting addicts and those at risk of addiction. Treatment is patchy across the country and too often patients are misdiagnosed and not treated by specialists who can spot the signs of gambling addiction.
“Gambling companies have to take more responsibility for harms caused by their products and contribute more to research and treatment. We must also face up to the negative effect the explosion in gambling advertising has had and act accordingly. It’s what any responsible Government looking to address gambling addiction must do.”
If taken forward, the proposed ban on credit card payments could prove to be a major blow to the betting industry, with 20% of payments currently made on credit cards. In response to both the proposed ban on gambling advertising during live sporting events and the ban on using credit cards for gambling payments, the Conservatives have placed the blame squarely with previous Labour governments, which they say relaxed regulations so much that they exacerbated the problems.
Sky disagrees on tighter regulation
Richard Flint, chief executive of Sky Betting and Gaming, was the first to disagree, publishing an article in The Telegraph to combat the need for tighter advertising regulations for gambling companies in the UK.
Flint said he “does not think that a blanket ban on gambling advertising during sporting fixtures would be the most effective solution to the problem”. Instead, he argued that the opportunity for companies that complied with the UK Gambling Commission’s guidelines to advertise on TV should be used to motivate compliance in the industry.
He said: “There are many things wrong with the industry in this country. But one major positive is that the vast majority of it – over 95% – is regulated by the UK Gambling Commission and pays a point of consumption tax to the UK Government. This is the result of sensible regulation, including the ability to advertise.”
He detailed how eight of the nine gambling companies that are featured on Premier League shirts are from overseas. The fact that these companies cannot be regulated by the UK Gambling Commission makes Flint uncomfortable and he has said that he believes a better way to regulate the market would be to look into a restriction on brands that are not regulated by UK policies.
Of course, the reality is that most of the overseas operators are based in countries that do not allow advertising of gambling full stop. So advertising through favorite games such as football that attract worldwide attention is often seen as a great reach-around. Sponsorship for the football teams and promotion for the companies.
If rules were to be increased then this would cause a major headache for both the operators and football clubs alike.