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Children bombarded by gambling ads at ‘critical time in their development’, says bishop

02 February 2018


Newcastle United winger Christian Atsu (left) in action against Chelsea last weekend. His shirt carries the logo of the team’s sponsor, Fun88, an online gambling firm based in Asia. Last week the club announced that it had removed the logo from the shirts of its youth team, in response to anti-gambling pressure; right: Papiss Cisse, photographed in 2015, who briefly held out against advertising the club’s previous sponsor, Wonga, because of his Muslim faith

Newcastle United winger Christian Atsu (left) in action against Chelsea last weekend. His shirt carries the logo of the team’s sponsor, Fun88, an onli...

A FLOOD of betting adverts shown during prime-time sports matches and on social media has become the norm in the modern world. But this sends “false messages” to the children being influenced, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has said.

“I am deeply concerned about the record-breaking number of gambling adverts which bombard children at a critical time in their development,” he told the Church Times on Wednesday. “Whether on social media or during football matches, these adverts send false messages. A recent survey found that children increasingly believe that gambling requires skill and is a good way to make money.”

A public consultation on Government proposals for changes to gaming machines and social responsibility closed last week. The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England warned in its submission, in January, that fixed-odd betting terminals were not the only risk to children and young adults.

“There is increasing concern about the risks of inducting children into a sense that gambling is normal and harmless. . .

“The child who learns the psychological stimulus of gambling on these machines experiences far more opportunities readily available, far greater salience of gambling in the cultural environment through advertising, and far more association of gambling with other forms of leisure such as sport, than children of a former age, when the crane-grab and coin-push might have been seen as harmless diversions which were soon outgrown. That is no longer a tenable position.”

Government measures to push responsible advertising are not enough, the council says. “In Australia, it was decided, on the basis of clear results from a number of studies much more recent than 2014, to stop advertising during live sports events before 8.30 p.m.

“It is not necessary to itemise this here, since no actual proposals are made in the consultation document, but they must be attended to and similar research undertaken in the UK context. There is clear evidence that gambling advertising, and promotions, are dangerous for problem gamblers.”

More recent research, and education on the subject in schools, is needed, it says. “Frequently, in considering the Government’s proposals in this response, we have noted the dearth of research which really addresses the central policy issues. . . Education has received little focus up to now, and it is good to see the large advertising campaign being planned. However, coverage of gambling in schools is patchy at best.”

In its submission to the original consultation to review gaming machines and social responsibility, in 2016, the council said: “The exception to the 9 p.m. watershed made for bingo, lotteries and the advertising of sports betting around televised sporting events — especially the last — is a concern to many church members, especially as they feel that their children are being accustomed to the idea that gambling is a normal, healthy part of a sports lifestyle to which they may naturally aspire.

“They point to the fact (from Gambling Commission figures) that the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds with a serious gambling problem increased from 0.8 per cent in the year to September 2013 to 1.4 per cent in the year to September 2016. Television gambling advertisements increased from 90,000 in 2005 to 1.4 million in 2012, and there is no reason to suppose the increase has slowed.”

Dr Smith continued: “A whole generation of children is being led to believe that they can get rich quickly: according to the Gambling Commission, more 11-15 year-olds now gamble than drink, smoke, or take drugs. This is an issue all parents should be aware of, and anyone concerned should write to their MP, and ask them to take urgent action.”

Data obtained by the diocese of St Albans via a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police and West Yorkshire Police suggests that violent crime and criminal damage at licensed clubs and betting shops has also increased in the past ten years.

The Met recorded 1914 reports of crimes at betting shops in the year to 31 March 2017, including 961 cases of arson or other criminal damage, 320 cases of violence against persons, and 173 robberies. This was compared to 2762 reports of crimes in licensed clubs, including 2062 cases of violence against persons, 157 cases of criminal damage, and 101 robberies.

In West Yorkshire, cases of arson and criminal damage in betting shops increased from 14 in 2013, to 31 last year (with highs of 27 in 2012, and 40 in 2016). Violence against persons increased from four in 2012 and 2013, to 18 last year.

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