John Whittingdale MP, the DCMS Minister overseeing the 2005 Gambling Act review, has responded to a letter from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm (GRH APPG) calling on the government to ‘act in an informed way’ on gambling advertising.
Sent on 5 July, the letter concerned a parliamentary discussion held on 25 May, during which Whittingdale responded to a question from Ronnie Cowan, MP of the Scottish National Party and Vice Chair of the GRH APPG. Whittingdale’s answer to this query was described as ‘misleading’ by GRH APPG Chair Carolyn Harris MP and Lord Foster of Bath, Chair of Peers for Gambling Reform.
In his reply to Harris MP and Lord Foster on 12 July, Whittingdale emphasised that the government ‘welcomes research being done in this area’ and is carefully considering all submitted information as part of its Call for Evidence to inform the review of the UK’s gambling regulations.
He explained: “While the evidence we have seen does not show a causal link between exposure to gambling advertising and the development of problem gambling, we are absolutely alert to the potential ways in which advertising or marketing may affect different groups.”
Furthermore, the Minister detailed how over 16,000 submissions have been received ‘from a wide range of individuals and organisations including gambling operators, experts by experience, treatment providers and academics’, reaffirming that any conclusions or proposals for reform ‘will be based on this serious consideration’.
The APPG’s primary concern about the initial parliamentary discussion related to Whittingadle’s citing of a study by Professor Per Birde conducted in 2014, with the Minister stating: “While this research found evidence that advertising may adversely impact problem gamblers efforts to cut down, it did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and problem gambling.”
Whittingdale’s answer was subsequently cited by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which the APPG has also criticised for describing gambling law reform advocates as ‘Sunday School Prohibitionists’ in a statement released last month
The letter concluded: “In this review we have a once in a generation chance to ensure we develop the right balance. between providing gambling in a safe and well-regulated way. The decisions must indeed be based on evidence which means a thorough assessment of all the evidence not the reliance of a position based on one piece of out-dated research.
“An approach of this kind will let all sides down. The Industry likes to jeer at those who do not agree with their position, apparently, we are ‘Sunday School Prohibitionists’. But now is not the time for school-boy name calling. What we desperately need is a grown-up debate and a properly informed and considered response.”
Arguing that there is ‘very strong public support for greater restrictions on gambling advertising, the APPG continued to reference studies by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), Ipros Mori and the University of Stirling, and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), as well as former Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson’s Channel 4 documentary on gambling addiction.
On 23 July, in a follow up reply to Whittindale/s 12 July response, Harris MP and Lord Foster sent the Minister links to the cited research which they argue demonstrate a ‘causal link’ between gambling advertising and associated harm.
The group stated: “We hope you will now be able to conclude that you have seen evidence that does show a causal link between exposure to gambling advertising and problem gambling and that you will consider this in developing regulatory and legislative proposals ahead of the White Paper.”