Sunday Soapbox

The stakes are too high not to ban gambling ads

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Since when did marketing a ruinous addiction become ok? Plus, pricking the Trump Baby balloon, and celebrating a new kind of hero

Gambling ads, Jackal, opinionAll bets should be off

If there’s one thing this country loves as much as football, it’s betting on football. The Times claims to have seen industry figures showing £2.5bn will be wagered during the World Cup. Two. Point. Five. Billion. Pounds.

Want more? According to Bonuscodebets.co.uk, £150m was bet on England’s game against Tunisia – that’s £11 for every one of us who watched the game in full.

ITV’s coverage has been soaked in gambling advertising – roughly a fifth according to analysts. And with no consideration to time of day or audience. Despite my best efforts to channel hop during commercial breaks, my kids, 7 and 9, are now all too familiar with the sound of Ray Winston’s voice. Fond though I am of Mr Winston, I’m not happy about this. Not happy at all.

We have a MASSIVE gambling problem in this country. An NHS report published last year indicated there are 593,000 problem gamblers in the UK, an increase of more than double in a decade. A survey by The National Problem Gambling Clinic in 2015 recorded an average debt of £16,615 among its clients. Last year, Gamble Aware said people with online gambling problems spend an average of £98 a day on gambling and place up to 90 bets a day. The total lost by Brits gambling online in the 12 months to June this year? £4.68bn. That’s up by 136 per cent since 2010, according to the Gambling Commission – hardly surprising given you can now gamble away your life savings by tapping your smartphone.

Those are frightening statistics totally lost in slow-mo captures of twenty-something blokes with Noel Gallagher haircuts and retro football shirts throwing their pints in the air when their bet on Harry Kane scoring first comes good (gambling is the last untouched bastion of lad culture). Talking of those blokes, Gamble Aware says young, unmarried, unemployed men are most at risk of developing a gambling problem. Talk about marketing an addiction to a target audience.

What do we do about this? Well, we can continue to turn a blind eye and decide that it’s ok we squander our billions, or we can do what Italy has done and ban gambling ads. Just last week, the country put a blanket ban on all gambling-related products and services covering TV, websites, radio, sports clubs and so on. It will come into place on 1 January, 2019. It can be done. It should be done.

We banned tobacco advertising – on TV as long ago as 1965 – and we tightened up alcohol advertising, because booze and fags ruin lives. The odds on gambling doing the same are too high to ignore.

Trump balloon, JackalA shameful idea that should never have got off the ground

If beat them at their own game were the only proven success mantra in politics, then a plan to hoist a balloon over Parliament Square in the form a giant Trump baby would be the smartest play since, oooh, I don’t know – since Barack Obama ridiculed Donald Trump (yes, him again) at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner those few, long years ago. Saddiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has sanctioned this hyperinflated idea, and so later this week when President Trump visits the capital, he will be greeted by a floating effigy of his prepubescent self. What in the name of all that is sane is going on? Stooping to the level of playground taunt, Trump’s preferred medium, deprives us of any moral high ground and instead reduces us to sneering, pratfalling hypocrites. It’s puerile politics. And a shame on us. A smart-thinking people would ask the question – of what benefit will this be to international relations and the already strained special relationship as we try to navigate Brexit? Talk about popping a balloon while you’re trying to inflate it. Trump is an ass, but he is still a head of state and the leader of our closest ally. We have a duty to respect the title, even if we don’t respect the individual currently occupying it. It’s hard not to see this petty student prank as another refrain from the current narrative – to get our point across (and we’re so sure we’re right), we have to belittle you. It’s foolish, and nothing good will rise from it.

Gareth Southgate waistcoat, JackalA new kind of hero

Heady days for folk who like their heroes ordinary. Banished into the World Cup hinterland go chest-beating popinjays Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, and in their place come Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane, plain men with sensible haircuts, who do towering things. It would be handy if we could create a rule here. Something along the lines of ‘nice guys always win’. But of course they don’t. For now, it doesn’t half feel good to see decent, humble, compassionate men showing the world how things should be done.