Several commentators have recently voiced their objections to TV advertising for on-line gambling. Predictably, the advertisers disagree.
The objectors emphasise the growing addiction among children, some of whom gamble on line through the night. The seven-digit number of such adolescent addicts is hard to believe, but then so is modernity.
Advertisers point out that they’re only allowed to run commercials after the 9 pm watershed. Moreover, they don’t encourage gambling. All they do is promote their own brand against competition.
The cinematic Cockney Ray Winstone, after informing credulous viewers that Bet365 is one big family that crosses “conninents”, even says that “we gamble wes-PON-sibly”. What more can one ask? Of course that disclaimer is a legal requirement, but, when the talented Ray says it, it appears to come from the heart.
Now I hope my libertarian friends won’t burn me in effigy if I say that I’d ban all such advertising, and not just because children become addicted. And not even because the campaign for the ban is led by Lord Chadlington, né Peter Gummer.
(I have for Peter that affectionate feeling I reserve for people who contributed to my comfortable retirement from advertising: his company bought the agency in which I was a partner.)
It’s just that I can see through the advertisers’ little tricks with ease. Of course they don’t promote gambling as such in so many words. But I’d like to know why Bet365 chose Ray Winstone as their spokesman.
Actually, I do know. Ad agencies have casting departments, and casting departments have thick books of all celebrities categorised by their credibility rating in every product category. Matching gambling to various potential spokesmen, they obviously found Ray’s credibility to be right up there.
For one thing, he’s a lovable, middle-aged bear of a man with much avuncular appeal. Then he speaks with an accent that’s more pint mug than cut crystal. This suggests that market research identified the demographics of the target audience as C to B-. If it were A to B, they’d have someone who sounds like Gary Oldman in his Churchill role.
In addition to being a wonderful actor and a genuine Cockney, Ray is what the target audience would describe as cool. That wouldn’t be the case if the spokesman were a Cockney actor mostly known for playing serial murderers.
Ray’s job isn’t only increasing his employer’s market share, but also growing the market. Encouraging the target audience to gamble, in other words. Advertisers use glamorous spokesmen because they know that this glamorises not only their product, but also what the product does.
As to the 9 pm watershed, it’s risible. First, I haven’t seen many teenagers who obediently go to bed at nine. And even those meek souls who do may well have a TV (pronounced tey-vey in this market segment) in their rooms. Also, the watershed is suspended on live sports broadcasts, mainly football.
We wouldn’t have much advertising left if such tricks of the trade were disallowed. Most advertisers use them. However, most products aren’t inherently pernicious. Though switching from one brand of toothpaste to another won’t improve anyone’s sex life, at least a toothpaste isn’t immoral in se.
Gambling is. And here again I speak from personal experience and observation.
These suffice even if we disregard the seven deadly sins, some of which a gambler commits. It’s just that anyone who has ever gambled or at least watched others do so knows that this activity encourages the worst parts and the basest passions of human nature.
Now I don’t have a gambler’s personality. My pain of losing £1,000 is much stronger than the joy of winning £1,000. Having said that, I used to bet relatively large amounts on myself in games of skill, such as the more cerebral card games, chess and tennis.
Many years ago I got interested in beating the casino at blackjack. Having played thousands of hands at home, I tried my luck a few times in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. And sure enough, working hard for several hours, I managed to convert the in-built house advantage of seven per cent to a 10 per cent advantage for myself.
That would have been most welcome had I started with a gambling capital of $100,000. However, since my capital was more in the nature of $200, the mass wasn’t worth the candle.
Later in life I went to a few race courses in Britain, mainly as client entertainment. There I played with the company’s money, which made the losses easier to bear. Perhaps because of that I won a hundred or two each time, even though I know nothing about horses.
Yet at both the casinos and race courses I indulged in my favourite pastime: watching people. That wasn’t a pretty sight: thousands of faces contorted with greed, the anguish of losing much-needed money, the ecstasy of winning large sums that will then be lost with interest. I heard shrieks, moans, weeping, hysterical laughter, sounds of triumph and devastation. It was man close to his worst.
Then again, offering or promising something for nothing inevitably corrupts both the buyer and the seller. Gambling is always corrupt – be that at a Mayfair casino or a Brixton street corner.
It’s not by chance that both Las Vegas and Atlantic City owe their prosperity to the Mafia. A casino isn’t something a Franciscan charity would want to build.
On-line gambling is a case in point. I know some accomplished poker players who have been unable to collect their winnings. And most punters don’t realise that, when they gamble on-line, they’re up against a computer, not another punter.
Incidentally, the lottery run by the biggest gambling outfit of all, the state, operates on the same principle, magnified no end. The odds of winning are much lower than at the blackjack table. Thus the lottery is a computer-calculated rip-off, or else a tax on people poor at maths.
Yet I don’t think gambling should be banned. Rousseau’s pronouncements notwithstanding, legislating the good parts of human nature isn’t the state’s job.
But preventing others from encouraging the bad parts may well fall under the state’s remit. Hence, even if the odd flutter shouldn’t be banned, ads for gambling should be. This is one of the areas in which the libertarian argument doesn’t work.