Children are being bombarded with a record number of gambling adverts as betting websites embark on an unprecedented spending spree to attract new customers.
Figures show that the industry has spent £1.4 billion on advertising since 2012, with online casinos doubling their marketing budgets over the past five years.
Britain’s biggest charity to help addicts is so concerned about the increasing volume of advertising that it is urging ministers to introduce stricter rules. Writing today in The Times, Kate Lampard, the chairwoman of GambleAware, says: “With the average age at which children start to watch post-watershed TV unsupervised being 11¾, restrictions based on a 9pm watershed may offer little protection.
“We need to balance the array of [commercial gambling] advertising with information about the risks of gambling, and where to get help if it becomes a problem.”
Bookmakers are allowed at present to advertise on television after 9pm and before that during live sporting events, such as matches in the Premier League, meaning that young football fans have grown accustomed to seeing celebrities encouraging them to bet. Almost half of Premier League clubs are also now sponsored by betting companies.
In total the gambling industry spent £312 million on advertising last year, a 63 per cent increase on 2012, according to the figures from the market research company Nielsen.
The amount spent on television advertising jumped by 43 per cent to £150 million but the biggest increase has been in online and other adver- tising. These have risen by 87 per cent to £160 million as companies such as Google and Twitter reap a huge dividend from the growth in the number of internet bookmakers.
Last year an investigation by The Times found that children who follow popular football accounts on Twitter will frequently have special offers posted to their timelines to suggest that they can make easy money from gambling.
The Nielsen figures show that the advertising spend by online casinos has increased by 97 per cent since 2012. Experts say that children and young people are particularly susceptible to gambling adverts and research by the Gambling Commission shows that problem gambling is twice as prevalent among people aged between 16 and 24 than the population as a whole.
Ms Lampard says: “As a society, we should be concerned about the rising risk of harm from wider access and more regular participation in gambling on future generations, resulting in a possible public health crisis in gambling addiction.”
The National Problem Gambling Clinic has already noted a significant increase in the number of young people seeking help for addiction.
Henrietta Bowden-Jones, who founded the clinic, wants significant restrictions to be imposed on gambling adverts. She said: “We know that exposure to gambling among young people has gone up through contact with adverts. There is a risk that this exposure can encourage young people to gamble and that regular exposure can normalise that behaviour.”
A government review into the maximum stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals was expanded last year to include gambling advertising. “The gambling industry’s luck has run out,” one senior minister said at the time.
However, there is now a row between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury over this review. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is understood to be trying to block publication amid concerns about the impact on tax revenues, but Tracey Crouch, the minister responsible for gambling, is pushing to proceed.
In a letter seen by The Times Ms Crouch says that she still hopes to publish the review in October after the “cross-government process required prior to publication”.
Ronnie Cowan, an SNP MP who has campaigned for tougher rules for bookmakers, said: “The unwelcome intervention by the chancellor, who was only thinking about Treasury coffers, will hopefully now dissipate.”