Gambling chiefs differ on advertising restrictions

Even before Labour produced a party conference plan that included a whistle-to-whistle ban on live TV sports advertising by gambling operators, a difference of opinion between senior figures in the industry had emerged about the possibility of legislative restrictions.

Sky Bet chief executive Richard Flint told the Westminster eForum Seminar on the ‘next steps for the gambling industry’ last Tuesday that a watershed or ban on club sponsorship would not “be the most effective way of getting to grips with problem gambling”. These remarks echoed his national newspaper article published the same morning.

Furthermore, he said: “We should use the carrot of being able to advertise on TV as a means to drive up standards across the industry. You can’t advertise on TV in the UK without a licence from the Gambling Commission, so the standards needed to secure a licence should rise markedly.”

However, his William Hill counterpart Philip Bowcock, also speaking at the same seminar, took a more pragmatic line. “Public opinion suggests that things will change,” he said, “and I don’t believe it will be long before the English Premier League introduces some form of restriction on sponsorships and advertising. We should be ready for it.”

Meanwhile, Gillian Wilmot, chairman of the Senet Group, the independent body that promotes responsible gambling standards, whose partners include Hills and Sky Bet, was unequivocal. “There is too much advertising around live sport, detracting from people’s enjoyment,” she told seminar delegates.

Wilmot added: “The problem is widely acknowledged in the industry. The solution needs to apply across the sector and the industry is willing to engage in conversations.”

On the subject of negotiating, session chairman John Spellar, the Midlands Labour MP who acts as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Betting & Gaming Group, had advice for industry leaders, after noting that adopting a « die-in-the-ditch position, instead of looking for a common sense solution » had left the sector in a worse position through the reduction in FOBT stakes.

He said: “The question is how to bring problem gambling down to the irreducible minimum, to ensure that people enjoy themselves but behave responsibly, to bring about change in the industry collectively but not to risk anti-competitive regulation. To get a common sense solution will require a degree of industry co-operation.”