MPs have been critical of the UK government’s approach to betting advertising in sports as laid out in the Gambling Act review White Paper earlier this year.

Published in April, the DCMS White Paper contained some proposals for reforming operators’ sports marketing practices, but certainly did not go as far as some advocates wanted.

Regrettable delays

A central proposal of the review was the implementation of a Code of Conduct for sports sponsorships. This included a requirement for sponsorship funds to be reinvested in grassroots sports and restriction of gambling advertising from family areas in stadiums.

However, the Code has not yet been published, meaning sports stakeholders – both clubs and operators – are still unclear on the exact terms. In a report published this morning, MPs of the CMS Select Committee described the publication delay as ‘highly regrettable’.

“The government should require the relevant sporting bodies to publish the Code, incorporating the committee’s recommendations, without further undue delay,” the Committee asserted.

Representing the UK gambling sector, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has placed the blame for this on sporting bodies, arguing that the organisations have “frankly, been dragging their feet”.

Does the Code go far enough?

Perhaps one of the main reasons the White Paper focused very little on sponsorship in comparison to other topics was the fact that the Premier League had already sought to address this itself.

Two months before the White Paper publication, 18 of the 20 top-flight clubs voted in favour of removing betting sponsors from the front of their team jerseys, with two clubs abstaining from the vote.

From the 2026-27 season onwards, clubs will no longer sign front-of-shirt deals with operators, although bookmakers can still place their logos on sleeves and on in-stadia signage, albeit in line with the Code of Conduct requirement regarding family stand visibility.

This was not quite as far as some campaigners wanted. For example, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm (GRH APPG) had called for a blanket ban on sports betting sponsorship across various leagues and sports, referring to this a ‘common sense’ measure.

It has also not stopped Premier League clubs from signing front-of-shirt deals whilst still available – this year alone has seen Fulham partner with SBOTOP, Nottingham Forest with Kaiyun Sports, and Aston Villa with BK8, for example, with all deals signed after the Premier League vote.

In its own response this week, the CMS Committee stated that whilst the Premier League phase-out is welcome, the move ‘will not significantly reduce the volume of gambling adverts visible during top-flight matches’.

MPs continued: “The government must work with the Premier League and the governing bodies of other sports to ensure that the gambling sponsorship code of conduct contains provisions reducing the volume of gambling adverts in stadia.

“The Code should also require that a higher proportion of gambling advertising in stadia is dedicated to independently-developed safer gambling messaging.”

Summarising the Committee’s view, Chair Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, said: “While gambling regulation should not overly impinge on the freedom to enjoy what is a problem-free pastime for the majority, more should be done to shield both children and people who have experienced problem gambling from what often seems like a bombardment of advertising branding at football and other sporting events.

“The Government needs to go further than the proposals in the White Paper and work with sports governing bodies on cutting the sheer volume of betting adverts people are being exposed to.”

MPs against ad ban, but more regulation still on the table…

On the other hand, whilst MPs are requesting more information regarding the Code of Conduct, they were highly dismissive of a proposed blanket ban on all forms of betting marketing.

“We do not consider that a complete ban on gambling advertising would be appropriate,” the Committee explained – but this does not leave the topic of advertising completely unaddressed.

In the MPs view, there is ‘still scope for further regulation’ of gambling advertising, and the Committee agrees with campaigners that there is causative link between advertising and harm.

As with the MPs assessment of the Code of Conduct delays, the BGC has been welcoming of the dismissal of an outright ban on advertising, sponsorship and consumer promotions.

Seperate to advertising, MPs also reiterated the view that finance risk checks – which will assess customers’ financial situation in order to place a bet – must be as frictionless as possible and non-intrusive.

This may sooth the concerns of some horse racing stakeholders. The sport has repeatedly raised worries that overly-intrusive affordability checks could drive customers away from the regulated betting industry.

Horse racing is heavily reliant on financial support from the industry, largely through sponsorship and annual levy payments, the latter of which is also under DCMS review, and was also addressed by MPs in today’s report.

“The government must ensure that the new settlement arising from the review of the Horserace Betting Levy mitigates the impact of the White Paper’s reforms on the racing industry and ensuring British racing’s future,” the Committee continued.

“We support the proposal for a distinct approach gambling sports sponsorship and advertising for horse racing and greyhound racing, given both sports’ close and long-standing relationships with betting.”

It is clear from MPs assessment that betting and sports marketers can be assured that the extent of White Paper reforms will not be as far-reaching as some feared during the two-and-a-half year Gambling Act review.

However, it is also clear that conclusions have yet to be reached, and the initial proposals of the White Paper concerning sports sponsorship, such as the Code of Conduct, are not set in stone, and could be subject to further regulatory changes if MPs opinions are taken on by the government.

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