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Fionola Meredith

Adverts for gambling on TV and online need to be given the red card by the Government

Fionola Meredith


The betting industry is fuelling addiction and undermining the very nature of sport

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The gambling industry has increased its spending on adverts

The gambling industry has increased its spending on adverts

The gambling industry has increased its spending on adverts

I don't watch football. And yet Sky Sports is practically the soundtrack to my life, because my other half is a lifelong football fan. I may not be looking at the screen, but what is impossible to miss is the massive amount of gambling adverts that blare from the telly.

The bombardment is relentless. Bet, bet, bet, bet - that's the constant message, hammering away, exhorting viewers to part with their money in the hope of a fast buck.

It's as if the gambling is at least as important as the game itself, if not more so.

On the rare occasions when I do cast a glance at the match, the scale of the take-over is breathtaking, with logos of gambling companies flashing from pitch-side hoardings or plastered over the players themselves.

Half of the Premier League's 20 clubs have a gambling sponsor on their shirts. It's even worse in the Championship, itself sponsored by Sky Bet, with 17 of the 24 clubs sponsored by a betting firm.

Betting firms are finding every way they can to insidiously insert themselves into sports fans' lives, especially those of young men - their prime targets

A recent study of Match of the Day by researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, showed that gambling logos or branding were visible on screen for between 71% and 89% of the show's running time - and that's on the technically advert-free BBC.

The ads are even more inescapable online. The gambling industry's spending on online ads has gone up by 56% in the past five years to around £747m, as against £234m on television.

Betting firms are finding every way they can to insidiously insert themselves into sports fans' lives, especially those of young men - their prime targets. Many children are also exposed to these ads through their smartphones, thus normalising the idea that betting is synonymous with sport, and priming them to become fully-fledged gamblers once they come of age.

"When the fun stops, stop" - that's the slogan that pops up at the end of gambling adverts, allowing the industry to look like it's taking a responsible attitude to betting.

This skimpy fig-leaf to cover their greed and exploitation of the vulnerable is a bad joke - they may as well not bother. Being unable to stop is the very hallmark of addiction.

The cynicism is profound. Last month it was reported that bookmaker Betfred's owners, billionaire Tory party donors Peter and Fred Done, are making millions of pounds from a business that treats public sector staff for health issues - including gambling addiction.

This is about more than addiction, extremely serious though that is. It's about protecting the nature of sport itself

Or how about the VIP schemes, targeted at the people who lose the most money, flattering them and offering them rewards? In one notorious case, Ladbrokes agreed to pay for a client's return flights from Dubai to London, business class, so that he could go to a match between Arsenal and Tottenham. It turned out that this guy was a problem gambler, placing bets with a stolen £1m.

Now, at last, a group of cross-party MPs, led by ex-Tory minister Mike Penning, has said enough. The politicians are urging the Government to completely ban all TV and online gambling ads. The situation is getting more and more urgent. More than 430,000 adults are feared to have a gambling addiction.

In 2018, a Gambling Commission audit revealed that the number of children aged 11 to 16 considered problem gamblers rose to 55,000 over two years. I wonder what that figure would stand at today?

I'm generally opposed to banning things, but I don't consider this a censorship issue. People would still be free to bet, just as they are free to smoke, and that's the way it should be. Adults must make their own decisions. But just as we banned smoking adverts because of the harm that cigarettes can do, so we should call a halt to the gambling blitzkrieg of TV and online advertising. It's out of control.

This is about more than addiction, extremely serious though that is. It's about protecting the nature of sport itself.

Remember the old Sky Bet ad: "It matters more when there's money on it"?

The idea presumably being that sport isn't really sport unless you have gambled some of your own cash.

The truth is, it matters less - because then you're thinking about your bet, winning money, not the match itself.

Even though I'm not a football enthusiast, I have learned that sport is essentially about healthy competition, thrilling suspense, team loyalty and the solidarity of fans. None of this is anything to do with gambling.

The betting industry are cynical, opportunistic pitch invaders. Send them off.

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