Thursday, 6 December 2018

The gambling industry feeds the crocodile

Farewell, sweet prince

From the BBC...

Gambling firms agree 'whistle-to-whistle' television sport advertising ban

Britain's biggest gambling companies have voluntarily agreed to a "whistle-to-whistle" television advertising ban.

The Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which includes Bet365, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power, has struck a deal to stop adverts during live sports broadcasts.

It follows political pressure about the amount of betting advertising on TV.

This is not wholly surprising. In recent months, some of the big players have come out in support of the further restrictions on gambling ads. Why would a business want its commercial speech to be curtailed? There are three possibilities.

Firstly, incumbent businesses tend to benefit from advertising bans because they raise a barrier to entry for new competitors.

Second, advertising does not increase aggregate demand (contrary to what campaigners claim) and is a zero-sum game. There is a large element of game theory to it. Each company advertises because the other companies are advertising. If one company doesn't keep up, it will lose market share, but if all the companies give up at the same time, they save a great deal of money. This is exactly what happened with tobacco.

Thirdly, the industry hopes to fend off further regulation by capitulating on this issue. There is a belief that the bookies could have avoided a £2 stake if they had voluntary reduced the stake below the controversial £100 mark (very few people gambled at £100 a spin anyway). Anti-FOBT campaigners Derek Webb and Matt Zarb-Cousin were probably right when they said in 2017...

“If [the gambling industry] had the ability to understand who we were and accept what the truth is, then they could have come up with [a maximum stake] of £20 a few years ago, and they might have got away with it,” says Mr Webb.
“Not now. It’s too much of an issue now,” adds Mr Zarb-Cousin.

But you only to read the BBC's article today to see that the voluntary ban will encourage, not prevent, further statutory regulation...

Could shirt sponsorship be next?

Matt Zarb-Cousin is a spokesperson for Fairer Gambling, a not-for-profit entity campaigning to reduce gambling-related harm and crime.

It is long overdue, there has been a huge amount of pressure on the sector over the volume of advertising which has increased exponentially year on year.

But for it to be truly effective, it should also include shirt and league sponsorship and digital advertising around a pitch.

Will it make a difference?

Marc Etches is the chief executive of GambleAware, a leading charity committed to minimising gambling-related harm.

We have been saying for a long time now that gambling is being increasingly normalised for children. They are growing up in a very different world than their parents, one where technology and the internet are ever present.

So while we welcome this move by betting companies, it is important to pay attention to analysis that shows the marketing spend online is five times the amount spent on television.

Without missing a beat, these anti-gambling campaigners have moved onto sponsorship and online advertising. What defence is the industry going to put forward for these forms of advertising now that it has implicitly accepted that gambling advertising is an evil?

Businesses should be far more robust in defending their right to free speech. Neither they nor the broadcasters have sold the benefits of advertising to the public.

I have a particular interest in this as a snooker fan. The game suffered terribly when tobacco sponsorship was banned. Prize money fell dramatically, as did the number of events. For a while, the entire sport only had five or six tournaments a year. In recent years, Barry Hearn has done a fine job of reviving the game by selling TV rights and getting new sponsors, most of which seem to be gambling companies. For example, the Betway UK championship is currently being played. In January, the Dafabet Masters will begin.

There are now more tournaments than ever and most of them are shown on Eurosport. Eurosport is a relatively niche channel which largely relies on gambling ads. The ads are shown between frames. A 'whistle to whistle' ban would be ruinous. A fall in advertising revenue would reduce the value of TV rights which would mean less money going into the game. Same applies to a ban on sponsorship.

Note that the proposal is not actually 'whistle to whistle'. According to the BBC, 'no adverts will be broadcast for a defined period before and after a game is broadcast' in addition to during the game.

Note also that a 'whistle to whistle' ban is the policy of the Labour Party, not the government. The fact that the industry has introduced such a ban to prevent the government doing it first tells you where Theresa May gets her policies from. To quote Webb and Zarb-Cousin again...

The campaigners also cite last year’s referendum on UK membership of the EU, which led to Theresa May becoming prime minister, as a key moment.
Mr Zarb-Cousin describes Mrs May as a “Red Tory” — a social conservative less inclined to listen to industry claims that curbs to FOBTs would lead to job losses at betting shops. “It’s one of the most important positives of Brexit,” says Mr Webb.

He adds he may broaden CFG’s focus to target online gambling next. “I want to fight where I can win,” says Mr Webb.

Say what you like about the casino tycoon and his young apprentice but they know what they're doing and who they're dealing with.

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