Mayor urged to keep election promise on gambling ads ban

Sadiq Khan promised in 2021 to introduce a ban on adverts promoting “harmful gambling” on the London transport network, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Photo by Krissia Cruz on Unsplash
Photo by Krissia Cruz on Unsplash

Sadiq Khan has been urged to honour his pledge to ban gambling adverts from the Transport for London (TfL) network.

The mayor promised the ban in his 2021 election manifesto where he highlighted “the devastating way gambling addiction can destroy lives and families”.

But no such measure has yet been introduced.

In a new cross-party report on the harms of gambling from the London Assembly’s health committee, the mayor has been told it is a “crucial area” where he could make a difference.

The committee was told by Khan’s health advisor, Dr Tom Coffey, that a ban has been held up because City Hall could be subject to legal challenge if it introduced restrictions based on its own definition of “harmful gambling”. City Hall has asked the government and public health partners to develop a definition.

Once that definition is published, Dr Coffey said his team “will move as swiftly as possible”.

He added: “What I do not think you would want me to do is do something that would cost millions in legal challenges and not move the dial one little bit.”

Between April 2022 and March 2023, TfL received £663,640 in revenue from gambling adverts.

Asked whether he would bring forward a ban, Khan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’ve asked the GLA [Greater London Authority] to do some research into this. They’re undertaking a review into this very area.”

It comes after the mayor in 2022 commissioned researchers from Sheffield and Glasgow universities to summarise the evidence base on the health impacts of gambling adverts.

The review found there were some limitations to the evidence, but still concluded that a ban “could reduce overall harm and mitigate the impact of advertising on gambling-related inequalities”.

Bristol City Council in November 2021 banned gambling adverts across council-owned advertising spaces, as part of a wider ban on other products deemed to carry a public health risk, such as unhealthy food and drink, alcohol and payday loans.

The committee’s Labour chair, Dr Onkar Sahota, said: “It is deeply concerning to hear that London’s rate of ‘problem gambling’ is almost twice the average seen across Britain, and that Londoners are more likely to be negatively impacted by someone else’s gambling. This includes families and children.”

He said that while “the majority of actions required to regulate the gambling industry and alleviate gambling harms rest at national level”, one “crucial area where the mayor can make a difference relates to advertising on the TfL estate”.

Though Dr Sahota acknowledged the limited evidence gathered so far, he added: “The absence of evidence of harm does not equate to evidence of an absence of harm and it seems unrealistic to expect definitive evidence to emerge on this topic in the near future. Therefore, the committee does not believe that the current evidence base should be seen as a prohibiting factor in introducing advertising restrictions.

“The committee believes the mayor should bring forward proposals to introduce a ban.”

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