Increased pressure on London Mayor to ban gambling advertisements in public transport system

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is increasingly facing calls to fulfill his campaign promise to ban “harmful gambling advertisements” on Transport for London (TfL) amid growing concerns over the prevalence of gambling-related issues in the UK.

During his election campaign, in April 2021, Khan vowed to address the effects of gambling addiction, as online and mobile app gambling services were accused of using aggressive marketing strategies to lure customers.

In his manifesto, cited by Financial Times, Khan said: “Given the devastating way gambling addiction can destroy lives and families, I’ll instruct TfL to bring forward plans to extend the ban to harmful gambling advertisements on the network.”

At a recent committee meeting of the London Assembly, experts and politicians urged Khan to honor his pledge and consider a broader ban. Harj Gahley, from gambling support charity Red Card, suggested a complete ban on gambling-related ads on TfL. “It seems to be a Wild West with betting operators,” Gahley said. “One of [the solutions] is stopping it on TfL.”

Although Khan’s manifesto focused on ads deemed “harmful,” instead of a blanket ban, it remains unclear how this category would be defined. Dr. Tom Coffey, Khan’s senior advisor on health policy, explained that the administration had requested the government for a precise definition of harmful gambling to avoid legal challenges and unfairly penalizing potentially less harmful forms of gambling.

Caroline Russell, the leader of the Green Party in the assembly, said that Khan’s administration is “dancing on the head of a pin” about what constituted “harmful” gambling.

If passed, the TfL ban would add to the restrictions already in place on London’s public transport, which prohibit marketing products and services considered harmful such as high-fat, salt, and sugar foods and ads promoting unrealistic body images.

Gambling Commission data indicates an increase in online gaming involvement and a “significant increase” in the number of people at moderate risk of adverse consequences from gambling, rising to 1.3% in 2022 from 0.8% in the previous year.

The ease of signing up for gambling services through online and mobile apps, especially among young gamblers, influenced by celebrity marketing on social media and ad tracking and targeting techniques, has been questioned.

Local authorities also expressed frustration with their inability to limit the operations of sportsbooks in deprived areas, although councils can apply to prevent shops from opening by proving they could cause people to be harmed or a source of crime and disorder.