By Jimmy Hartill
Advertising is a vital part of running any business. It’s impossible to make money if nobody knows your company exists, after all. But if your business involves alcohol, smoking or (most importantly) gambling, then you face an extra level of difficulty in making sure your attempts at promotion don’t conflict with the ASA’s laws about advertising. In the UK at least, the history of sports betting and gambling advertising has a few interesting points that really stand out.
Starting in 1845 with the Gaming Act that pretty much outlawed gambling. Unless you were upper class, since it specifically excluded the tote for horse races, the act basically made other wagers unenforceable as a legal contract. You’ll be shocked to hear this didn’t really stop people gambling, it just meant everything was done secretly and gave birth to street betting which operated in quasi-illegaly until 1906 with the street betting act. Then it operated in regular illegality. Probably a little obvious but any gambling advertising going on at this time was fairly low key and limited.
It took until the 1960’s (to be fair, there were a couple of wars in between) for gambling to be legalised and betting shops open again. But they weren’t exactly easy to promote, they had to keep the window’s blacked out and the interior kept deathly serious so it wouldn’t appeal to the kids. They let bookies use colours in their interior design starting from 1986 which seriously helped the advertising side of things. They could even include a TV in the shop!
It wasn’t until 1994 and the National Lottery that the law really changed again. Technically, this was the second attempt at a national lottery, but the last one ended in 1826 because it was incredibly rigged. And tickets cost a tenner which is just crazy. But with the Lottery and the Internet coming into play, the bookmakers all felt they were at a bit of a handicap and lobbied for looser regulations to help them compete with the government. This finally bore fruit in the 2005 Gaming Act where their advert restrictions were slackened a bit, coming into force in 2007.
Which then had a 600 per cent increase in TV adverts, going from 234,000 a year to 1.3 million in about five years. That’s what happens if you hold it in too long. But while TV advertising is definitely a big sector, there’s one other kind of advertising which gambling shops have always had better than any other.
Viral Social Media!
While the undisputed leaders of that right now are Paddy Power, the real inventor of weird and wacky bets was Graham Sharpe who ran PR for William Hill who started taking bets on things like when the rain would start during a drought. And next year, during a particular rainy week, when it would stop. This kind of tongue in cheek approach was a great way to drum up interest and has clearly survived to this day. While they might have had limits on what they could put on TV or radio, word of mouth and doing things a little bit different is one way bookies have always had to get their brand out there.