The Guardian Media Group has announced a global ban on gambling advertising, arguing it is unethical to take money from services that can lead to “addiction and financial ruin”.
Anna Bateson, the chief executive of Guardian Media Group, said advertising, particularly online, could trap gamblers in an “addictive cycle” that caused financial distress, mental health issues and wider social problems.
She said: “Guardian journalists have reported on the devastating impact of the gambling industry in the UK and Australia, helping to shift the dial and ensure the issue remains high on the public agenda. Studies highlight a clear correlation between exposure to gambling advertising and increased intentions to engage in regular gambling.”
Bateson said a particular concern was how bookmakers used targeted online adverts to lure back individual gamblers. “Ultimately, we believe that our primary obligation is to do the right thing for our readers, which is why we’ve decided that there are other ways to generate revenue,” she said.
The ban covers all forms of gambling advertising, including promotions for sports betting, online casinos and scratchcards. It will apply worldwide to all of the company’s online and print outlets, including the Guardian, Observer and Guardian Weekly.
Lottery advertising has been excluded from the ban, with a spokesperson for the Guardian saying it could have social benefits through raising money for good causes and typically involved “non-instantaneous draws”.
The Guardian already has a ban on adverts from fossil fuel companies, which has been in place since 2020.
The decision to exclude gambling advertising from the Guardian’s publications follows the rapid growth of online betting on sporting events, aided by deregulation and the huge increase in the number of smartphone users. The US has recently embraced online betting on sports, following the lead of Australia and the UK, where gambling has exploded in popularity over the past decade.
In order to sustain their profits, gambling companies spend enormous sums of money on advertising to attract new customers – and to persuade existing ones to return for one more flutter.
Many media outlets are increasingly reliant on money from betting companies. British television channels have said their business models increasingly depend on advertising from bookmakers, while TikTok is trialling gambling advertising in Australia, and the US outlet Barstool Sports was bought outright by a casino group.
There are signs of growing discomfort about this approach among the public and prominent journalists, at a time when other countries are instituting outright bans on gambling advertising. The veteran football commentator Clive Tyldesley recently left the radio station TalkSport because he felt uncomfortable with the obligation to promote bookmakers and odds during matches.
Guardian Media Group increasingly relies on contributions directly from readers, rather than advertising, for its income.
Bateson said: “We are able to make these types of decisions due to our independent ownership structure, balancing purpose and profit.”
She said the Guardian’s own reporting had shown how the UK’s government’s proposed betting reforms “fell short on any meaningful action on gambling advertising”.
She said: “We understand and respect that millions of our readers, including our reporters and staff, are passionate sports fans who may occasionally choose to engage in gambling as part of their sporting experience. It is a matter of personal freedom, and we have no issue with that.
“We fully support the enjoyment of sports and respect individuals’ choices to participate in occasional gambling on football, horse racing, or any other sport. Our concern lies with the pervasive nature of retargeted digital advertisements that trap a portion of sports fans in an addictive cycle.”