The World Cup from Brazil is on and like many others I shall be keeping an eye on the television to follow the progress of England and others. When I do I can't help being exposed to regular advertisements by the big betting companies offering me multiple opportunities to bet on the matches. Does this matter? Is it just an innocent addition to the general entertainment value of the experience as the companies claim? There are several reasons to be concerned.
For one thing much of the advertising takes place before they 9 pm watershed. It is generally agreed, and is enshrined in regulations, that potentially dangerous products to which young people might be particularly vulnerable should not be advertised earlier in the day or evening. Gambling has been allowed to be an exception as a result of bargaining some years ago between the Government and the gambling industry about which the public was unaware. This is contrary, I would argue, to one of the basic principles governing the work of the national gambling regulator, the Gambling Commission, which states that opportunities to gamble should be provided in a way which protects children and young people from harm. Young people may be particularly susceptible to the very enticing adverts now being shown. Even if they do not place a bit themselves, they will often be watching matches in the company of adult family members who may be betting and they therefore may share in the excitement of betting and the emotions accompanying losing or winning. People who have developed gambling problems will often, looking back, talk about starting to gamble in the presence of adult family members who did not realise that their children or grandchildren were being exposed to danger.
One aspect of betting on this World Cup, compared to most previous World Cups, is how easy it has become as a result of technological development and betting company inventiveness. No longer will it be necessary to go to the local betting office to place a bet – although some people will go there to bet on matches and in the process will be at risk of their betting spilling over into other forms of gambling available there, most worryingly high-stake fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Much of the betting on World Cup matches will be conducted from the sofa or armchair using apps available on devices such as smartphones or on home computers. A further development is the diversity of ways now available to bet on a match. Advertisements accompanying the World Cup make this very clear – we are invited to bet on who scores the first goal and how long it takes to come, the number of corners, or who gets a ‘red card’, and to take part in ‘in-play betting’, for example betting at half-time on the final result knowing how the first half has gone. Also on display are practices such as offering £10s worth of free bets – an example of a company practice widely regarding as irresponsible.
Many will ignore the barrage of adverts altogether. Others will place the occasional small bet and leave it at that. But there will be others who spend more than they or their families would have wished and some who will get into debt or into family arguments as a result. There will be some who will look back in years to come and recognise that ‘the 2014 World Cup was when my gambling problem started’. This is a public health issue and we are all – the betting companies, the Government, the regulator, television companies, the press and media generally, and the general public – responsible for managing it.