Who: The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC)
Where: United Kingdom
When: By 7 May 2020
Law stated as at: 11 May 2020
The UK’s largest betting and gaming operators, represented by the BGC, have agreed to voluntarily remove all TV and radio gaming advertising during the Covid-19 lockdown. BGC confirmed that this will be implemented as soon as possible, but not later than 7 May 2020 and will remain in force for 24 hours a day until at least 5 June 2020. Significantly, direct marketing will not be impacted.
BGC confirmed that existing TV and radio advertising slots will be replaced by safer gambling messages, donated to charities or removed from broadcast.
This move comes amidst heavy criticism of the UK gambling industry for not doing enough to protect vulnerable people at risk of addiction games during the lockdown period.
In March 2020, BGC released an initial 10-point pledge to set out standards required of its members during the lockdown. However, this was criticised by some for not going far enough and over 20 MPs wrote to the government calling out BGC’s initial measures as weak, vague or already forming part of the requirements of their licence to operate.
There is a particular concern that vulnerable people may be at increased risk of problem gambling under the lockdown, due to longer periods spent at home and increased financial uncertainty. In particular, there is concern that, in the absence of sporting fixtures, more people will turn to riskier products such as online casino games, which are associated with higher rates of problem gambling.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher’s statement on the matter insisted that “there hasn’t been an explosion in people betting online as some had predicted“, and he further confirmed that online revenue in the sector has fallen 60 per cent during the lockdown. Dugher stated that gambling overall was down with no live sport on TV and high-street betting shops and casinos closed.
Dugher’s statement continued that: “We are determined to do everything we can to protect customers potentially at risk during this lockdown period and beyond – and we are determined to drive the high standards that the public expect from us. I hope others follow our lead”.
BGC’s members accounts for about half of all gambling advertising on TV and radio, and BGC has expressed the hope that other operators, including the National Lottery operator Camelot, society lotteries and other bingo operators, will implement similar bans.
Why this matters:
The UK gambling industry has come under increased scrutiny during the lockdown period, with particular concerns over the heightened risk of problem gambling due to periods of extended lockdown at home coupled with increased financial uncertainty.
The gambling industry should expect this scrutiny to continue. Sports Minster Nigel Huddleston has told gambling companies to expect a demand from the Gambling Commission for data on consumers’ gambling patterns during the lockdown in order to determine whether more needs to be done to protect people. This follows the government’s announcement at the end of last year that it intended to conduct a full-scale review of the 2005 UK Gambling Act, and a recent announcement from the Advertising Standards Authority of an increase in gambling-related complaints since the start of the coronavirus epidemic.
The motivation to ensure that gambling operators are not exploiting any consumer vulnerabilities echoes the concerns of regulators across a broad spectrum of consumer law, who are currently prioritising the need to prevent consumer exploitation due to the impact of COVID-19.