The UK’s Gambling White Paper was published a year ago tomorrow, but the debate on sports sponsorship and advertising remains as fierce as ever 364 days after the review’s recommendations landed.

Peers in the House of Lords concluded in a debate on the ‘impact of gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship on problem gambling’ that the White Paper’s recommendations on advertising and sponsorship were not the full package.

Lord Foster of Bath – Source: UK Parliament

The debate was initiated by Lord Foster of Bath of the Liberal Democrats, the Chair of Peers for Gambling Reform, a long-time advocate of betting law reform. Foster and the PGR have broadly welcomed the review, but argue more needs to be done on marketing.

Foster explained his view that “except for the Gambling Commission taking a closer look at bonus offers such as free bets and spins, and the Premiership’s voluntary ban on front-of-shirt sponsorships, the White Paper proposes very little on gambling advertising reforms”.

Advertising partnerships between sports organisations and bookmakers was the subject of a long-running and often intense debate throughout the two-and-a-half year duration of the Gambling Act review.

Football was the main focal area for the most part. Reformists were keen to see betting sponsorships banned from all levels of the sport, although some of the game’s key stakeholders were not entirely enthused – EFL Chairman Rick Parry openly commented on the significant value betting partnerships posed to tier two-four clubs.

As pressure mounted, the Premier League held a vote in which 18 out of 20 clubs approved plans to phase out front-of-shirt sponsorships by the 2026/27 season. From this campaign onwards only sleeve sponsorships and some instadia advertising will be permitted in the top-flight.

Reform advocates felt this did not go far enough, however, and when the Gambling Act review was published it featured little comment around sponsorships apart from encouraging a sports Code of Conduct and supporting the Premier League’s decision. 

“Betting companies would not be spending such vast amounts on advertising if it didn’t work.”

In the Lords this week, Foster and his fellow reformers argued that the review has done little to regulate an industry which spends “£1.5bn a year on gambling advertising”, whilst also poting to ‘over one million gambling adverts’ a year on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter/X.

Foster remarked: “As the Lords Committee noted, betting companies would not be spending such vast amounts on advertising if it didn’t work, leading to more gambling and greater risk of harm… We must ask why such little action has been proposed.”

Reformists also accused the Gambling Act review of dismissing research whilst also citing that ‘the vast majority of the public want a clampdown on gambling advertising’, pointing to a poll showing that 77% of Conservative Councillors want tighter restrictions.

In the face of some policymakers and legislators’ views, gambling advertising continues to be seen as a valuable means of income for many clubs, including Premier League ones.

Although some top-flight clubs have already begun to distance themselves from front-of-shirt deals, others seem to be making the most of the two years left – e.g. Aston Villa’s recent deal with Betano, Fulham’s deal with SBOTOP, and Nottingham Forest’s with Kaiyun Sports.

On the other hand, some clubs have been active in moving away from gambling advertising, including teams in the lower leagues – the leagues which often benefit the most from the revenue the sector can generate.

Foster pointed out that “30 football clubs are going in alone, joining the Big Step campaign to end gambling advertising in our nation’s sport”. Tranmere Rovers and Forest Green Rovers are two clubs to have joined this campaign, whilst Bolton Wanderers has joined a similar initiative, Against the Odds.

“An exhaustive look at the best available evidence on the impacts of gambling advertising.”

Responding to Foster’s comments, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay represented the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (CMS), the governmental body responsible for overseeing both the gambling industry and British sports.

Parkinson asserted that the review had “not been dismissive of research, in which it took an exhaustive look at the best available evidence on the impacts of gambling advertising”.

The government believes that reforms on gambling advertising form part of a “balanced package of wider industry reforms” that are designed to minimise harm.

Though gambling advertising has become more widespread since 2005, “especially within sports”, Lord Parkinson stated that its continual growth rate had not resulted in “an increase in gambling participation rates or population-level problem gambling rates, which have remained broadly stable”.

The government is also confident that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code does enough to regulate the industry’s marketing. The Code states that bookmakers cannot use anyone under the age of 25 in marketing, and must also ensure adverts do not contain people with a strong appeal to young audiences e.g. well-known footballers.

Meanwhile, the Gambling Act review’s implications for sports has also caught criticism in other areas, but not for the same reason as Foster and the PGR. Horse racing stakeholders have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact affordability checks could have on the sports finances.

Regardless, with UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and CMS consultations on the review still ongoing, conclusions are yet to be reached and with an election almost certain this year, it seems the adoption of White Paper measures will not come any time soon.

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