Published: November 4, 2018

Sky limits TV gambling adverts to one per break amid campaign for pre-watershed ban

Sky will dramatically cut the number of gambling advertisements it shows amid rising concern over addiction and the prominence of betting in sport.

The pay-TV giant will impose a limit of one gambling advertisement per commercial break on its channels from the start of the next Premier League season in August. Currently up to four betting promotions are shown during each commercial break, with slots during live matches on Sky Sports in high demand to attract “in play” betting.

The restrictions will apply to all channels for which Sky sells advertising slots, including Channel 5, which is owned by the US media group Viacom. All forms of gambling, including bingo and online poker, will be covered by the new rules.

The move add to pressure on the gambling industry, which already faces a government clampdown on lucrative fixed-odds betting terminals. The sports minister Tracey Crouch resigned last week over a delay in plans to slash the maximum stake allowed by such machines from £50 to £2.

Self-imposed advertising restrictions are expected to cost Sky tens of millions of pounds in annual revenue. Gambling accounts for about £200m per year in television advertising sales, and Sky is thought to control nearly half of the market. The full financial impact is difficult to assess partly because advertising slots on Sky Sports are auctioned off, so prices may rise when supply is curtailed.

From 2020 Sky will also allow viewers to exclude gambling from commercial breaks entirely. Technology built into its set-top boxes and those of cable operator Virgin Media will insert alternative advertising in its place.

Sky, which is now owned by the vast US media and telecoms group Comcast following a £30bn takeover battle with the Murdoch family and Disney, is voluntarily restricting gambling advertising amid calls for a regulatory crackdown.

Betting companies themselves, including the owner of Ladbrokes, have called for a ban on television advertising before 9pm. It would save them tens of millions of pounds annually and give high street operators a boost over online-only rivals such as Bet365 and Betfair.

The industry has ploughed money into advertising since the Labour government scrapped strict rules in 2007. According to research from market research company Nielsen, the industry has spent a total of £1.4bn on advertising between 2012 and 2017. Of that, £430m was spent to promote sports gambling, almost doubling from £64m in 2012 to £127m in 2016.

Steven van Rooyen, chief executive of Sky’s UK arm, said: “Our customers are worried about gambling ads on TV – and we understand their concerns. That’s why we’ve committed to limiting the amount of gambling ads on Sky and better protecting those vulnerable to problem gambling.”

He called for action too against online gambling advertising on Google and Facebook, which is almost completely unregulated. According to the Gambling Commission one in 10 children follow social media accounts run by betting companies. Mr van Rooyen said that while regulation had made television a “safe space”, “there is still a real danger online – and there will be until online platforms are regulated as tightly as TV”.

Sky has capitalised on Britain’s gambling boom. As well as advertising, it was a major shareholder in its own-brand operator Sky Bet, which was sold to a Canadian rival this year for £3.4bn.

Sky's decision to restrict gambling advertising this weekend raised hopes among campaigners of a broader effort to curb addiction. The charity Money and Mental Health said it would increase "momentum across industries to tackle problem gambling".

Rival sports broadcaster BT said: “While we already limit the number of gambling adverts shown on our channels, we will continue to review our approach to bookmakers advertising and work closely with the ASA and other appropriate stakeholders.  In addition to this we are supporting Gambleaware’s initiative to highlight responsible gambling via a campaign that will run on BT Sport and other broadcasters.”

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