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Adverts for UK bookmakers and online casinos ‘need smoking-style warnings’

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Adverts for bookmakers and online casinos should carry smoking-style warnings, the UK’s leading gambling charity has said, as it warned that a marketing surge during the Euro 2024 football tournament could make it harder for people to cut down or quit.

GambleAware called for an end to the industry-approved “Take Time To Think” slogan, which appears on gambling adverts, labelling the message “inadequate”.

Instead, the charity has drawn up its own guidelines spurred by research suggesting that wall-to-wall betting adverts, which typically increase significantly during major football tournaments, make it harder for people with a gambling problem to stop.

GambleAware is funded by donations from the industry and has faced scrutiny over concerns that the source of its funding risks affecting its independence. However, its call to scrap the “Take Time To Think” message could now put the charity on a collision course with industry operators, who crafted the slogan via their lobby group, the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC).

The message replaced “When the fun stops, stop”, which was also widely criticised. The BGC defended its “Take Time To Think” slogan, saying it had been launched after consultation with the government, academics and GambleAware itself to find the most “effective way of encouraging responsible betting”.

But GambleAware now wants the industry’s ads to include its own new set of “clear” health warnings, featuring slogans such as “Gambling can be addictive” and “Gambling comes at a cost”.

Of those experiencing problems with gambling, more than half say that seeing ads make it hard for them to cut down, according to a YouGov survey for GambleAware. A similar number (55%) said they felt unable to escape adverts about gambling.

“We know that gambling advertising can contribute to the normalisation of gambling as just a bit of ‘harmless fun’,” said Alexia Clifford, chief communications officer at GambleAware. “We want to see stronger restrictions on gambling advertising to protect people from harm.

“We hope the health warnings and clear signposting set out in these new guidelines will ensure that people are clear about the risks of gambling and where to go for help and support should they need it.”

Donations to GambleAware from the industry, which reached £50m last year, are technically voluntary, although the system is well established and has so far allowed operators to avoid being forced to pay a mandatory levy.

The Conservative government announced plans to replace the voluntary system with a statutory levy to raise more funds for research, education and treatment, as part of a white paper on gambling reform published last year.

However, the unfinished proposal has been left up in the air by Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a summer election. Labour has not said whether it would push the levy plan through if it wins the general election.

The BGC said: “The ‘Take Time To Think’ campaign was launched after extensive customer research, as well as engagement with academics, government, operators and stakeholders including GambleAware on the most effective way of encouraging responsible betting.

“The white paper committed to review customer messaging, including those provided by industry, and we look forward to engaging on that work with whoever forms the next government.”

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