‘Sports bookies should be challenged on damaging ads’

Sports gambling that is marketed as ‘fun’ and ‘mischievous’ has driven gambling to unprecedented levels, leading to ruined lives, a newspaper commentator and former Olympian has warned.

Writing in The Times, Matthew Syed pointed to the relaxation of laws on TV advertising in 2007, which prompted “a transformation in funding and branding”.

Gambling companies “wield such power”, Syed noted, “that they have convinced TV companies to move their spots from traditional ad breaks to split-screen commercials that intrude upon the live content itself”.


He highlighted the “light-heartedness” of the adverts themselves.

“The basic idea is to use fun, mischief and levity to obscure the fact that even non-problem gamblers are losing money hand over fist. Punters are being voluntarily fleeced”, Syed said.

Punters are being voluntarily fleeced

Matthew Syed

He added: “Despite what gambling companies insinuate, watching sport is just as exciting without the need to donate money to corporates that have legally rigged the market so that they clean up, whatever happens.”


Syed referred to two friends of his, whose lives were devastated by gambling addiction.

Grant, not his real name, was a successful businessman when he became addicted to the “instant high” of gambling, leading to the collapse of his marriage and business. Last year Grant ended up in court with “crippling debts from which he may never recover”.

Tony died five months before he was due to be best man at Syed’s wedding, “his life having been driven into a downward spiral of gambling debts”.


Syed concluded that gambling can be “cancerous”, and said we have a “right to emphasise that a minority end up with lives ruined”.

He said that “many who are not defined as ‘problem’ gamblers can be pushed into financial compromises that damage friends and family” and that we have a “right to challenge the canny advertising of bookmakers”.

Last year, a then senior minister called for the restriction of aggressive gambling advertising that is often seen by children during televised sports events.


Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander expressed his growing concern in a leaked letter to the former Culture Secretary Sajid Javid.

He cautioned that it is getting to the point where families cannot watch a televised sports event without being inundated by “highly solicitous advertising” from betting companies.

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