Published: June 24, 2023

All bets are off: why the Guardian has decided to reject gambling advertising

The gambling industry has grown rapidly in recent years, and Britain and Australia have led this global expansion. Many people like the occasional bet, but the advent of 24/7 betting apps on smartphones, marketed to the public through billions of pounds and dollars in advertising across all forms of media, has placed high stakes gambling machines in almost every pocket. This creates a greater risk of gambling addiction and financial ruin.

Guardian journalists have reported on the devastating impact of the gambling industry in the UK and Australia, helping to shift the dial and ensure the issue remains high on the public agenda. Problem gambling poses significant risks, leading to financial distress, mental health issues such as depression, and various personal and social problems for many individuals. The costs of problem gambling for individuals, their families, and for wider society, are significant.

Studies highlight a clear correlation between exposure to gambling advertising and increased intentions to engage in regular gambling.

Australia holds the unenviable title of having the highest gambling losses globallyAnnually, approximately $25bn (£13bn) is lost to gambling, predominantly by those who can least afford it. Despite repeated efforts to enact policy reforms, these attempts have struggled to gain traction. The Australian National Rugby League’s pursuit of the “absolute revolution” in online sports gambling in the US illustrates concerns about the connections between sport and the global gambling industry.

The tides have been shifting for some time. Surveys in the UK and Australia reveal a majority of the population would support a ban on gambling advertisements, a position taken by the Italian government in 2019, and the Belgian government more recently.

The UK government has recently introduced a ban on gambling and betting companies from using advertising featuring footballers and reality TV stars, and Premier League clubs have agreed to ban gambling company sponsorships on club shirts from the 2026-27 season. Likewise, gamblers in Australia will soon be banned from using credit cards for online betting. Meanwhile, in the US, the sports gambling industry has boomed since a federal ban was lifted in 2018; previously it was only legalised in Nevada.

The recent UK gambling white paper noted that the loss of revenue from gambling adverts could impair public service broadcasters’ ability to meet their obligations”. Ultimately, we believe that our primary obligation is to do the right thing for our readers, which is why we’ve decided that there are other ways to generate revenue.

As a recent Guardian editorial explained, the UK government’s proposed gambling reforms fell short of any meaningful action on gambling advertising. In Australia, a parliamentary inquiry into online gambling and its associated harms is due to report back in the coming weeks.

We think now is the right time to say no to gambling advertising on all Guardian platforms, effective globally from 15 June 2023.

Our new policy will apply to all online advertisements on the Guardian’s website, app, audio, video, and newsletters, as well as print advertisements in the Guardian and Observer newspapers and Guardian Weekly. The policy covers all forms of gambling advertising, including sports betting, online casinos and scratchcards. Given the different nature of lotteries, we do not propose to include lottery advertising in this policy.

We understand and respect that millions of our readers, including our reporters and staff, are passionate sports fans who may occasionally choose to engage in gambling as part of their sporting experience. It is a matter of personal freedom, and we have no issue with that. We fully support the enjoyment of sports and respect individuals’ choices to participate in occasional gambling on football, horse racing, or any other sport.

Our concern lies with the pervasive nature of retargeted digital advertisements that trap a portion of sports fans in an addictive cycle. By taking a stand against gambling advertising, we believe we can offer a place for sport fans all over the world to enjoy world-class sports journalism in an environment free from advertising pushing betting, wagering or online casinos.

The Guardian is committed to responsible advertising practices that will have a positive impact on society. High-quality advertising is welcome on our platforms, and plays an important role in helping to fund the Guardian’s journalism, something more and more brands and agencies mention in our conversations. They want to advertise within trusted media environments that represent the values of their audiences.

We will continue to regularly review and update our policies to ensure they remain up to date with any changes to laws relating to gambling advertising. We are committed to working with our partners and stakeholders to ensure that the transition to a gambling advertising-free environment is as smooth as possible.

We made a similar decision in 2020 when we decided to stop carrying advertising from oil and gas companies. We are able to make these types of decisions due to our independent ownership structure, balancing purpose and profit. To support quality journalism and our decision to ban gambling advertising, please consider supporting the Guardian today.

© Public Gaming Research Institute. All rights reserved.