Survey Suggests Children See Fewer Gambling Ads on TV

Little girl watching TV
New research in the UK suggests children see fewer gambling ads compared with a few years ago.

30-second summary

  • New survey shows kids saw just 2.8 gambling ads a week in 2017
  • Exposure to gambling ads fell by 37% since 2013
  • Exposure to sports betting ads fell by half
  • Children saw more ads for junk food

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published a new survey on children and age-restricted advertising, including gambling ads.

The survey reveals that during 2017, children were exposed to an average of 161.2 TV ads per week, of which just 2.8 were gambling-related. Kids were more likely to see ads for junk food – an average of 9.6 per week that year.

However, the research does not include children’s exposure to gambling ads online, where much of such advertising has migrated in recent years.

37% drop in exposure

The ASA report said that children had had their highest exposure to TV ads of all kinds in 2013 – a peak of 230 ads per week, including 4.4 gambling ads. Thereafter it had declined by 30%. In the four-year period 2013-2017, children’s exposure to advertisements for any kind of gambling product fell by 37.3%.

On average, kids saw one gambling-related ad in 2017 for every five seen by adults, amounting to about 65 seconds per week. Exposure to ads specifically for sports betting fell from one a week in 2011 to 0.4 a week in 2017.

Betting ads on TV were heavily restricted until 2008 when the ASA started monitoring the data. The laws on advertising were updated in 2013, explaining the drop in figures between then and 2017.

Since 2011, children have seen more TV advertisements for gaming, such as bingo, scratchcards, and lotteries.

The ASA said one reason for the drop in the figures was that changes were made in marketing spend and behavior, since the rules for scheduling ads on TV had not changed in the research period. It now plans to publish an annual report on children’s exposure to age-restricted ads on TV as part of its remit. The annual report would include online advertising from next year.

Guy Parker, CEO of the ASA, said: “Protecting children has always been at the heart of our regulation. These findings show that, in recent years, children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling, and food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar is declining.”

Not the whole story

However, while the headline figures appear to show a decline in children’s exposure to gambling ads, data buried deeper in the ASA report tells a different story.

While the ASA says children see only a fifth of the gambling ads that adults see, the numbers are actually higher now compared with 2008, when children saw an average of 2.2 a week. This is because the number of gambling advertisements on TV rose sharply during the period covered by the research. Both children and adults now see more gambling ads than before.

A spokesperson for the Royal Society for Public Health, Niamh McDade, accused the ASA of “cherry-picking” its headline figures to “paint a somewhat over-optimistic picture.”

And independent research commissioned by Conservative politician Lord Chadlington also suggests children are seeing more gambling ads, not fewer. His study revealed that teenagers were seeing four gambling ads a day, rather than the 2.8 a week claimed by the ASA.

Chadlington is campaigning to ban all gambling ads during sports events, not just the whistle to whistle ban. He said: “Children should not be seeing any of these advertisements given that 18 is the legal age to gamble.”

Football shirt controversy

Meanwhile, a Church of England bishop, Dr. Alan Smith, has said UK soccer clubs need to drop sponsors’ logos from their kit, as exposure to their logos is damaging for children.

Dr. Smith, the bishop of St Albans, mentioned the case of a child who had been given a replica football shirt for Christmas. The child had rejected the shirt as the betting company’s logo was missing so he thought it must be a fake.

He said: “A whole generation of young people have taken on a range of views and attitudes about the norm of gambling. We have changed the enjoyment of sport from sport in itself to something that’s to do with money and betting.”

The bishop is a long-time campaigner against gambling. He added: “We want to see a significant decline in the number of gambling adverts children will see.”

The Church of England’s Synod will meet later this month and is expected to demand an even greater reduction in gambling advertising. It will also call for increased levies on betting companies to fund treatment programs for problem gamblers.