Gambling companies have been accused of using celebrity influencers to promote their most addictive products during lockdown, amid calls for Spurs manager José Mourinho to end his advertising contract with Paddy Power, over its promotion of online casinos.
Mourinho, the former Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United boss, first signed for Paddy Power late last year, with agency VCCP launching the “Don’t think you’re special” campaign on TV.
But with the Premier League shutdown, the big gambling firms have agreed to devote their TV and radio ads to “safer gambling” messages. However, they made no such commitment to online advertising, which critics claim is being ramped up to woo gamblers from football to casino betting.
Last week, Paddy Power launched a new push for its virtual slot games with Mourinho offering “100 free spins” for new customers. These games carry jackpots of more than £3m.
According to a recent survey by Clean Up Gambling, regular gamblers said they were gambling more during the lockdown. A quarter of those who typically bet at least once a week said they were still doing so, while 28% had increased their activity, and 11% said they were gambling a lot more.
Spokesman Mat Zarb-Cousin told the Times: “Online gambling companies are using celebrity influencers to peddle their most addictive products, Gambling Commission data shows engagement with online slots has increased by a quarter and virtuall sports by 40% since lockdown.”
Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for NHS Northern Gambling Services, which has clinics in Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland, said footballers and managers should be banned from endorsing such products.
He added: “We need to divorce gambling from sports and from football. The message is that ‘this is an ordinary business’ and it needs to be replaced with a public health protection model. Sports endorsements and celebrity endorsements have got to stop.”
The Government is currently examining betting sponsorship in a review of the 2005 Gambing Act but the Betting & Gambling Council, which represents the industry, insists that overall the number of people gambling has fallen.
UPDATE: A group of 50 cross-party MPs and peers is calling for a complete ban on gambling ads on TV and online in a new Parliamentary report, demanding tighter measures on the betting industry.
The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group has spent a year gathering information for their recommendations, which include a ban on gambling ads, both on TV and online; an end to VIP schemes and inducements to bet; a £2 stake limit on online slot machines; independent affordability checks; controls on gambling game design; and a new ombudsman to resolve disputes.
The report states: “It is our view that the Gambling Commission is not fit for purpose and we recommend an urgent review of the Gambling Commission and its capacity to effectively regulate the burgeoning online gambling industry.
“The Government must commit further and more flexible funding for the Gambling Commission to enable it to cope with the growth in its responsibilities and there must be rigorous oversight as to how this is money is spent.”
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