Watershed: Closing the loopholes in gambling advertising

Publication Details

In Watershed: Closing the loopholes in gambling advertising, ResPublica outlines the practical ways in which greater compliance, fairness and social responsibility can be encouraged in the advertising and licensing of gambling. The recommendations we put forward are not focussed on creating new legislation, but on upholding the regulatory powers already enshrined in the 2005 Gambling Act, such as the Gambling Commission’s power to revoke a license.

The Gambling Act of 2005 has failed to maintain a balance between permission, choice and responsibility. The current regulatory framework has allowed the gambling industry to exploit legislative loopholes and breach advertising standards, without fear of meaningful sanction.

These existing regulations are not safeguarding individuals and communities as they should. There are an increasing number of problem gamblers in the UK, especially among young people and vulnerable groups. This report calls on Government to take action to close legislative loopholes and encourage social responsibility in the industry, so that gambling ain Britain can become part of a culture of both personal choice and social responsibility: creating a market in which fair play is celebrated over vulnerability, exploitation and harm.

To coincide with the release of this report we have sent an open letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport with the backing of a cross-party group of Parliamentarians calling on him to back our recommendations. The letter is available to view here.

Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica commented:

“The Government has rightly capped the maximum FOBT stake to £2 and we applaud this, but this one off action will not solve the public health crisis associated with gambling, or the annual societal cost of between £1.2 billion to £3.6 billion. ResPublica believes that only by treating gambling in the same way we treat smoking and other public health emergencies will we start to cut the numbers of problem and at risk gamblers.

Part of the challenge regulators face is the dramatic change to how people gamble. Much of the industry is based solely online, with little or no physical footprint exploiting the latest online operant marketing techniques to draw people on to their websites. This type of advanced physiological profiling is especially effective on the young and vulnerable.

Rules designed in the early 2000s are no longer fit for purpose, while the aim of putting social responsibility at the heart of the industry has failed to materialise. Worryingly evidence suggests that the numbers of problem gamblers and those at risk are significantly higher than previously estimated. The latest figures suggest there are up to two million at risk gamblers on top of the 430,000 problem gamblers.

What we are proposing is a radical change of direction in terms of Government policy. No longer should gambling be considered solely as a harmless leisure pursuit with responsibility for its regulation limited to the CMA and DCMS. It has to be recognised and regulated for the addictive and potentially harmful activity that it is.

Government departments must pull together, just as they did to reduce smoking rates, because it will take concerted action, additional resources and a fundamental rethink of policy if we are going to tackle this growing and insidious problem.”

  • Dr James Noyes


    Dr. James Noyes is an Associate at ResPublica, he was previously our Head of Policy and Strategy. Prior to joining our team, he was a lecturer at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). James has a PhD from...

    Dr James Noyes