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Kevin Smith

No Dice for Gambling Ads in UK

4 September 2002

Much to the chagrin of TV operators, and despite the urging of government agencies to relax restrictions on advertising for gambling entities, the group that licenses and regulates commercial television services throughout the United Kingdom introduced new advertising standards for TV advertising, and gambling still finds itself on the outside looking in.

The Independent Television Commission (ITC), which dictates what is advertised on commercial TV throughout England but is a separate group from operators and the government, has released its Advertising Standards Code and despite urging from many sides has maintained its restrictions on gambling advertising on TV.

The updated code, which went into effect Monday, like the previous code, lists betting tips and betting and gaming under its "unacceptable categories" section. Only football pools, bingo and lotteries escape the restrictions. The ITC exempts these three forms of betting from its restrictions because they are permitted under the National Lotteries Act.

The revised code was published despite recommendations from the Gambling Review Body which suggested last summer that restrictions be loosened as part of a government-wide overhaul of gambling laws and practices.

The ITC published the revised standards after an exhaustive consultation process between broadcasters, advertisers and other interested parties.

Not only does the new code go against suggestions from the Gambling Review Body, but it also comes at a time when commercial broadcasters are clamoring for new advertisers.

The industry is in the midst of an advertising downturn that hasn't been seen in 40 years, as economies all over the world tighten and companies cut back on marketing and advertising.

Many U.K. broadcasters were banking on a relaxation of advertising restrictions making it possible for them to sell advertising to bookmakers, casinos and other gambling companies.

Officials with the ITC were not immediately available for comment, but its director of programs and advertising, Sarah Thane ,said in a press release that the group has always looked at protecting the consumer first when deciding what to prohibit from being advertised on TV.

"Our aim has been to seek views on the current rules and to incorporate best practice and recent developments into the code," Thane explained. "The basic policies remain very much as they were, and as our research indicates, viewers want them to be, but we have sought to put them into a more user-friendly format."

The release did not specifically mention the continued ban of gambling ads.

In addition to broadcasters, the decision also effects England's growing number of satellite and cable sports channels, which have been keying on the introduction of gambling advertising to help fuel new interactive gambling services on digital TV.

Earlier this year, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell outlined plans to modernize Britain's £42 billion gambling industry, including a liberalization of advertising restrictions--subject to a new code of practice.

It is believed that the advertising restrictions remained virtually unchanged after fierce lobbying efforts from church groups and other religious organizations. The ITC may be hesitant to change advertising policy for gambling prior to the creation of the government's proposed Gambling Commission, according to some reports. The commission will publish its own advertising code once it has been assembled. No date has been set for the formation of the commission.

The new code, last revised in 1998, liberalized few restrictions that were in place since its last update.

Click here to view a copy of 2002 ITC Advertising Standards Code.

No Dice for Gambling Ads in UK is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith