Mental health

Why the delay of the Gambling White Paper is a cause for concern

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The release of the UK’s White Paper review of the Gambling Act 2005 has been postponed once again. This is the fourth time that the review has now been postponed, with aides to Boris Johnson now advising that this cannot be released until a new PM has been chosen. 

This has caused outrage and dismay from several groups including charities, MPs and campaigners. Gambling with Lives, a charity that provides support for those affected by a gambling disorder stated “Tens of thousands more people will be harmed and some will die as a result of this inexcusable delay,”. Former Conservative Party leader and prominent Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith has previously vowed to declare ‘war’ on the government if the review was too watered down. Now Duncan Smith stated he was ‘very sorry’ that it would be delayed again. 

The news will bring more anguish to those affected by gambling addiction and the loved ones of those lost to the disorder. Annie Ashton lost her husband Luke to gambling-related suicide in 2021. She has started a petition to release the white paper as soon as possible, which has now amassed over 80,000 signatures. In the last line of the petition, she states ‘Every day the white paper is delayed is another life lost, another family, like mine, needlessly shattered. It must be published now’. 

Sadly, Annie’s story isn’t the only one. A Public Health England report published in September 2021 estimated there are more than 409 suicides a year in England associated with problem gambling. The Gambling with Lives charity have conducted their own research which finds this could be as high as 650. This charity, among others, aims to raise awareness of the possible dangers of gambling. However, is it becoming harder and harder for those with an addiction to avoid?

A report by the Gambling Commission found that six in ten consumers see gambling adverts or sponsorships at least once a week. There are various types of advertisements used by the betting companies to promote their company in an increasingly competitive market, such as free bets. These entice the consumer to place a risk free bet and 22% of gamblers in the report stated that it was a free bet that made them engage. Some would argue that this is a dangerous way of enticing the consumer back into the world of betting. An addict would not be able to stop at the free bet.

Former footballer, Paul Merson, has been at the forefront of raising awareness of gambling addiction over the last couple of years, including filming a documentary of his journey. He also claims that it is the advertising that draws him back into the world of gambling: ‘”I think the adverts are triggers,”. It is hard to escape the betting adverts when watching live sport, there were an average of 3.7 ads per live game shown at the Euros 2020. At the start of the 2021/22 season, only Norwich City began the campaign without any betting brand partnership. With 8 of the 20 having a betting sponsor on the front of their shirts, considering the millions of viewers that these teams get across a season, it is clear to see why there is concern. 

However, raising awareness and campaigning seems to be having an effect. The Premier League is currently asking clubs to phase out shirt sponsorship by gambling companies, which would see them vanish from the front of shirts within the next three years. Critics argue this doesn’t go far away as gambling adverts would still be allowed on the side of shirts and at stadiums. 

There are further restrictions being placed on gambling adverts too, with new rules introduced by the UK’s advertising regulator banning footballers and celebrities from featuring on betting adverts. This was something previously condemned by Paul Merson, who stated that they ‘sicken me’.

These restrictions will aim to reduce the visibility of gambling adverts and hope to reduce the effects on gambling addicts. The continuous delays to the White Paper review are not helpful for those affected by gambling addiction, the charities, or campaigners. They only draw out an already painful situation with no clear idea of when these laws or rules may change.

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