GVC Holdings, the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, has called for a total ban on all televised UK sports betting adverts, following its involvement in the forthcoming whistle-to-whistle advertising restrictions, which the company believes “do not go far enough”. While the proposed ban would help protect the public from gambling-related harm, it could also be said that GVC stands to gain from it.

 

What is GVC’s proposal?

GVC unveiled a package of measures on Thursday aimed at protecting vulnerable gamblers, headlined by a round-the-clock advertising ban. The proposed restrictions would prevent the broadcast advertisement of sports betting at any time of the day, on live and repeated sporting events, with the exception of horseracing. GVC’s proposal would permit advertising promoting responsible gambling and safer gambling, but strictly limit this to one advertisement per commercial break.

As well as the advertising ban, GVC revealed further initiatives as part of its ‘Changing for the Bettor’ campaign, including bans on sponsorship deals that promote gambling brands on football shirts and pitchside hoardings, as well as increased investment into problem gambling treatment and education.

 

Building upon the whistle-to-whistle ban

GVC was amongst the group of gambling firms, including William Hill and Bet365, that voluntarily agreed to the forthcoming pre-watershed, whistle-to-whistle advertising ban orchestrated by the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) in December.

The ban was welcomed by many as the first step in combating harmful gambling advertising, at a time of growing public concern surrounding the topic. There were others, such as Sky UK’s chief executive officer Stephen Van Rooyen, who saw it as inadequate, suggesting that betting companies would instead spend more money on other advertising mediums.

While GVC helped to achieve the whistle-to-whistle ban, Thursday’s statement from the group somewhat echoes Van Rooyen’s sentiments, with GVC saying it believes the forthcoming restrictions for the 2019-20 football league season “do not go far enough”.

GVC chief executive Kenny Alexander stated his desire to build upon the whistle-to-whistle ban in a separate op-ed with EGR. “Although this is a good start, I personally feel that we need to do more. That is why I am announcing additional measures, which we hope the rest of the industry will support,” he said.

Alexander also called on the rest of the industry to follow suit and support the move, to help “revolutionise the existing gambling advertising system”. He added: “all of us need to learn from the mistakes of the past, and take a more practical and hands-on approach to protecting the vulnerable.”

Breaking ranks within the industry

While GVC’s campaign demonstrates its commitment to responsible gambling, it could be said that the company stands to benefit from the proposed ad ban, as it would limit the exposure of its industry rivals. As one of the largest firms in the sector, GVC would still benefit from the natural exposure of household names such as Ladbrokes and Coral, even with the broadcast ban in place.

So far, gambling firms 32Red and Betway have stood firm in the face of pressure from GVC, saying they would not pull deals with their respective partners.

Neil Banbury, General Manager at 32Red, said: ‘We welcome any efforts to make gambling safer, but a blanket ban on sponsoring clubs will not stop problem gambling.

Anthony Werkman, Betway CEO, questioned the impact of the proposed ban: ‘The real issue is that all gambling operators should act with the correct duty of care, help any customers in need and protect the vulnerable.

‘Our shirt sponsorship and perimeter LED advertising is only ever a logo. It never includes the types of offers or promotions that are common on high street betting shop fronts, so to single out TV sports broadcast advertising and football team sponsorship from the wider marketing mix is disingenuous.’

GVC’s betting exchanged brand Betdaq sponsors the shirts of just two clubs in English football – Sunderland and Charlton, both in the third tier of English football. On the other hand, its competitors feature on nearly 60% of the clubs in the top two tiers alone – nine of the 20 Premier League clubs, and 17 of the 24 in the Championship. Many of these are GVC’s less prominent rivals, which do not have a presence on the high street and depend on shirt sponsorship for exposure. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how GVC’s proposed ban could be interpreted as an attempt to eliminate competition.

It remains to be seen if the proposed advertising restrictions will gain enough support to progress – GVC’s competitors won’t want to shy away from their responsibility in this area, but will be wary of losing any competitive advantage in agreeing to the proposal.