The Church of England is calling for the end of gambling ads on TV in the UK, claiming they are a bad influence on children. In response to a new study about adolescent gambling behaviors, the Church last week submitted a recommendation that the government remove a broadcast exemption that allows television companies to run gambling ads before 9 pm for live sports broadcasts.

UK television betting ads
Betting sponsorships are common in UK sports, but some would like to see daytime gambling ads removed from live events on TV. (Image:

Normally, no gambling adverts are allowed on television before what’s known as “the watershed,” a 9 pm barrier before which all domestic programing in the United Kingdom must be suitable for children. The inclusion of betting ads in sporting events is one of the few exceptions to this rule.

Bishop Says Gambling Ads Normalize Betting for Kids

The result is that children regularly see gambling ads during daytime television. Right Rev. Alan Smith, who is currently the Bishop of St. Albans, told The Daily Telegraph that he fears this will normalize gambling among children and cost the UK in the long run.

“There’s lots of evidence that young people are seeing extraordinary levels of advertising which is normalizing and socializing gambling,” Smith said. “When you watch a match you cannot watch a game of football without seeing dozens of adverts which are selling a way of life. There is an exemption for gambling companies. That is an anomaly that needs to be closed and changed.”

In their submission to a government consultation, the Church of England also pointed to figures from the UK Gambling Commission that suggested there has been an increase in problem gambling among young adults. This came at a time when the number of gambling ads on TV had sharply increased from 90,000 in 2005, up to about 1.4 million in 2012. Since 2012, gambling firms have more than doubled the amount they spend on TV ads, suggesting this trend hasn’t slowed down.

Even children themselves seem to think that there’s too much focus on gambling during sporting events. A survey of 1,000 14 to 18-year-olds by polling firm Populus found that 65 percent of those teenagers thought there were too many gambling ads on television.

Gambling Industry Opposes Policy Change

The exemption for gambling ads on live sporting events has been a hot topic for several years now. When the possibility that a ban could be considered was first floated in 2016, the gambling industry quickly came out against such a move.

“All the evidence was considered and it was deemed there wasn’t significant evidence to make a change of that kind,” RGA CEO Clive Hawkswood said, referring to a previous review by the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport. “We would never say things can’t be improved, but what’s the justification?”

It remains to be seen if the government will seriously take up the issue of betting ads anytime soon. At the moment, their gaming focus appears to be on fixed-odds betting terminals. Reports earlier this month suggested that the government would reduce the maximum bet on those machines to just £2 from the current level of £100. However, a formal decision on betting limits won’t be made until at least May.

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