Gambling advertising has grown substantially since enactment of the Gambling Act 2005. In February 2020, the National Audit Office reported an estimated 56% increase in advertising spend by gambling operators between 2014-2017, driven primarily by online and social-media advertising.

Concerns have been raised about the volume of gambling advertising in sports coverage. A 2023 report from the University of Bristol found that 6,966 gambling messages were shown in six televised matches over the Premier League’s opening weekend (11-14 August 2023). 

The regulation of gambling advertising is addressed in a library briefing Gambling advertising: how is it regulated? published in March 2024.

Briefly, gambling operators work under license from the Gambling Commission. Advertising regulations are set out in the Commission’s License Conditions and Codes of Practice and the Advertising Codes, which state that gambling advertising must be “socially responsible”. The advertising codes were updated in 2022 to include, amongst other provisions, a restriction on gambling advertising by sportspeople likely to be popular with under-18s, particularly top-flight footballers.

Recent Developments

The Government’s white paper (April 2023)

The Government’s white paper on gambling – High Stakes: gambling reform for the digital age – was published in April 2023. The report was commissioned to address the changing nature of gambling since the Gambling Act 2005, particularly the rise in online gambling and associated advertising. Introducing the white paper, the Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer, said “we are bringing our pre-smartphone regulations into the present day”.

The white paper proposed:

  1. “Tougher restrictions on bonuses and direct marketing”, requesting the Gambling Commission to review promotional offers and incentives (such as free bets and bonuses) to ensure they are “constructed and targeted in a socially responsible manner”.
  2. “Making advertising smarter and safer”, calling on operators to “use the full potential of available advertising technology to target all online advertising away from children and vulnerable people and those showing indicators of harm”
  3. “A new approach to safer gambling messaging”, developing new safer gambling messaging with the Gambling Commission and the Department of Health and Social Care
  4. “Socially responsible sport sponsorship”, supporting the adoption of a Code of conduct for “a responsible approach to gambling sponsorship”

Culture, Media and Sport Committee Report on Gambling Regulation (December 2023)

In December 2023, the Culture, Media and Sport select committee published a report on gambling regulation in response to the Government’s white paper. The report concluded that “the Government should have taken a more precautionary approach to gambling advertising in general”.

Addressing the evidence linking gambling advertising to gambling-related harm, the report concluded that “the evidence for a link between advertising and gambling harm currently appears much stronger than evidence indicating there is a risk of displacement to the black market if gambling advertising is restricted.” The report highlighted the need to “commission independent longitudinal research on the link between gambling advertising and harm”.

The report noted the exposure of fans to extensive gambling advertising in stadia and proposed an update to the gambling sponsorship code of conduct, both to reduce the volume of advertising and to combine advertisements with more safer gambling messaging.

The report expressed concern about delays in publishing the cross-sport gambling sponsorship code of conduct described in the white paper. Stuart Andrew, the Minister for Sport, said on 7 March 2024 that “work is underway to develop and implement the Code”.

Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group

The Gambling Related Harm All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) raised concerns in January 2024 (PDF) about the “lack of clarity around the timeframe of delivery, and the pace of the consultation process” on the white paper by the Government and the Gambling Commission. The group further highlighted survey data from the Gambling Commission in 2020 on how different forms of gambling advertising prompt consumers to start or re-start gambling, or to increase their gambling stakes.

Gambling Commission consultations

The Gambling Commission has consulted on giving consumers more control over the direct gambling marketing that they receive. This consultation closed on 18 October 2023.

A further consultation considering how to ensure incentives, such as free bets and bonuses, do not encourage gambling harm, closed on 21 February 2024.

The outcome of both consultations is awaited as of 11 March 2024.

Industry-led regulation

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) is the industry body that represents around 90% of the UK’s betting and gaming industry. Members of the BGC operate within the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) Code for Socially Responsible Advertising. The most recent update to the code was summarised in a press release from the BGC:

As well as raising advertising standards for young people, the new code will extend the current commitment, which ensures 20% of TV and radio advertising is devoted to safer gambling messaging, to digital media advertising too.

BGC members have already taken major steps to ensure only those legally allowed to bet see online marketing for regulated betting and gaming products.

Previous rules ensured all sponsored or paid for social media adverts must be targeted at consumers aged 25 and over unless the website can prove its adverts can be precisely targeted at over 18s.

Under the new guidelines, the 25+ rule will be extended to all digital media platforms who provide an appropriate age filter.

In April 2023, the Premier League announced that front-of-shirt advertising for gambling operators would be withdrawn from matchday shirts, beginning at the end of the 2025/2026 season. Addressing this announcement, the Culture, Media and Sport committee’s December 2023 report said, “the withdrawal of gambling sponsorship from the front of Premier League players’ kit is welcome, but it will not significantly reduce the volume of gambling adverts visible during top-flight matches”.

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