Stephen van Rooyen: The inconvenient truth about gambling adverts

Last week the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) floated plans for a “whistle to whistle” ban on advertising during all sports games. The move comes after increasing concern from some, including Sky, that gambling ads are becoming too widespread and have the potential to cause harm.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this sounds a reasonable plan. The truth is, the facts paint a very different picture. What the RGA has failed to address is the inconvenient truth that over 80 per cent of the gambling industry’s advertising is in the largely unregulated online world.

Independent research from Gamble Aware shows money spent on gambling marketing online is five times that of TV, and the amount of cash spent promoting gambling on social media has more than tripled over the past three years. If the RGA and gambling companies are serious about protecting vulnerable gamblers, then they should start by looking at where they spend the most money, what has the least level of regulation and where there is most evidence of harm: the online world.

These aren’t the views of a broadcaster scared of losing TV ad revenue; quite the opposite. Last month we voluntarily agreed to limit the number of gambling ads to one per commercial break. And we’re using our AdSmart technology to enable people to block gambling advertising if they wish. As a result, there will of course be some financial impact to Sky, but a proportionate and responsible limit to gambling advertising is the right thing to do.

The irony is that TV advertising is already highly regulated, with rules around exposing inappropriate advertising to minors and limiting when and how often gambling ads can be seen. This is not the case online. If the RGA plan is implemented, then spend would simply shift even further online, with smartphones, tablets and computers targeted with even greater precision. This doesn’t feel like a good outcome for anyone except gambling firms and online tech platforms; the same platforms who by avoiding their tax commitments deny government the funds that society needs.

Equally, this deprives British TV broadcasters of revenue that helps make high-quality programming that people love to watch. Instead, this money is funnelled offshore and the UK loses out. What this has shown is that yet again there is a disparity of regulation between TV and online platforms and that there are bigger issues at stake that affect us all. It is why politicians need to look at this in a more meaningful way and ensure that the same rules for advertising in the offline world apply online.

Stephen van Rooyen, CEO UK & Ireland, Sky

Originally published in The Times - Monday 10 Dec 2018