Anyone casting an idle glance at British commercial television (especially Sky) might come to the conclusion that the UK has morphed into a nation of gambling fiends and new findings from broadcast regulator Ofcom confirm it.
Since the betting market was liberalised in 2007 (basically now you can bet on anything anywhere) the number of gambling ads on British TV has risen from 0.7 per cent of the total to 4.1 per cent, a bigger share than cars or travel and transport.
As such it’s part of a wider phenomenon with betting shops (stuffed full of ‘fixed odds’ terminals that are just great for losing money – and money laundering) infesting the increasingly desolate high streets in poorer areas.
According to the FT, of the gambling ads on TV 532,000 were for bingo; 411,000 were for online casino and poker services; 355,000 were for lotteries and scratch cards; and 91,000 for sports betting. Some would argue that the trend actually started with John Major’s National Lottery; generally lauded for its support of ‘good causes’ like Olympic athletes but close to a national obsession. Even the BBC broadcasts ghastly prime time shows plugging the damn thing.
All of which poses interesting moral questions for the media (especially the aforementioned Sky which even has its own betting business SkyBet) and the agencies that produce the ads.
Usually, of course, the response by either of these groups to a moral question is, first, to try to ignore it and, second, to piously assert that any attempt to interfere with their right to make money is a threat to freedom, democracy and the sacred workings of the free market.
But there is a moral issue here and some restrictions on the TV gambling bonanza would be both timely and justified.