Lancashire Telegraph – Saturday Sermon – 3 March 2018
A mother told me recently how she had saved up to buy her young son a football shirt for his favourite team for Christmas. On Christmas morning when he ripped open the present he burst into tears. Distraught, his mother asked what was the matter. ‘It’s not a real team shirt,’ he sobbed, ‘It doesn’t have the gambling logo on the front.’
Who says that advertising doesn’t influence the young? Clearly this young boy could recognise the online gambling company’s logo and associated it in his mind with his sporting heroes and his favourite team. This is not surprising – the number of television adverts for gambling has increased 150 times over in just a few years, from 90,000 in 2005 to 1.4 million in 2012, and gambling adverts are heavily concentrated around live football matches broadcast during the daytime. The impression is given that gambling is a normal, healthy part of a sports lifestyle. Even more worryingly, a recent survey has found that children increasingly believe that gambling requires skill and is a good way to make money.
According to the Gambling Commission’s own research, 450,000 children in England and Wales are gambling every week, with an increasing number using smart phones to do so, and the problem is twice as large among boys as girls. Tim Miller, Gambling Commission executive director, said “We’re often reminded to discuss the risks of drinking, drugs and smoking with our children. However our research shows that children are twice as likely to gamble than do any of those things.”
Christians and Muslims have always warned of the dangers of gambling, because it is a massive contributor to debt and family breakdown among the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Jesus had very harsh words to say against those who would cause ‘little ones to stumble’ (Mark 9.42). Hence a recent submission signed by the Church of England and the other main denominations calls on the government to ban all on-screen advertising for gambling before the 9pm watershed.
There are signs that football teams will listen to pressure from the terraces. Newcastle United, which is sponsored by an online gambling firm based in Asia, has recently announced that it has removed the logo from the shirts of its youth team, in response to anti-gambling pressure. Let us hope that other teams follow their lead, and that clubs will one day recognise that endorsements from gambling companies are no longer acceptable, for the sake of the children.
I am looking forward to going to watch my team play today, but I won’t be wearing the team shirt – at least not until there is a change in sponsor!