Does the gambling industry need tighter regulations?

It’s estimated that the number of adults with a gambling problem has risen by a third in just three years. There were around 430,000 sufferers in the UK in 2015 alone. But, as the issue continues, should gambling companies be treated in the same way as the tobacco industry? According to a groups of MP’s, they should. They say that gambling should be treated as a public health issue, and that firms should be made to display health warnings about the potential harm that gambling can cause. Currently, they are allowed to suggest that betting is “fun” rather than harmful, and they are allowed to advertise on television and  live sporting events.

The group, which includes shadow culture secretary Tom Watson and former Tory minister John Hayes, say that the current regulations, whereby “the onus of social responsibility remains subject to the self-regulation of the licensee” isn’t working. There are also a number of loopholes in the law, meaning that laws on advertising can be ignored by the industry “without fear of meaningful sanction”. There are also calls for the government to deal with the issue of fixed-odds betting terminals by reducing the maximum stakes.

The group want alcohol to be treated like tobacco. They say:  “Gambling advertising should be consistent with other types of addictive or harmful products to public health such as cigarette packs, by featuring clearly identifiable health warnings that cannot be absorbed into an advert’s overall design. The wording of gambling advertisements is a problem because words such as ‘win’ and ‘fun’ are emphasised rather than ‘harm’, thus normalising the idea of gambling as a leisure pursuit rather than an addiction.”

They also want tighter laws on advertising on sporting events and live matches. “The current exception to the watershed that permits gambling adverts during live sporting events needs to be closed. Echoing a range of voices including the Church of England, we’ve found that this loophole both undermines the principle of the watershed and poses a risk of harm to young people – particularly young men and at-risk gamblers. We think the only way of closing the current loophole is a comprehensive ban on gambling advertising during live sporting events, including TV ads, billboard ads and clothing sponsorship.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “As well as reducing the maximum FOBT stake to £2, we have set out a package of measures to increase protections around online gambling and advertising. From next month, responsible gambling messages must appear on screen throughout all television gambling adverts, and a multimillion-pound safer gambling advertising campaign will launch later this year.

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