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The has come under for claiming it took a decision to step back from a ban on gambling advertising because there was “little ” that it led to harm among users.

Speaking in front of the culture, media and committee on Tuesday, the minister for , gambling and civil society, Stuart Andrew, told MPs that the had taken an “-led” approach to reform. He also admitted, however, that there was a need for “much better” research on the effects of gambling and its harms.

“We have very much gone on the [and] there’s little that exposure to advertising alone causes people to enter into gambling harm,” Andrew said. “Once we have the research if there’s more that proves advertising is causing harm then we will look at that.”

The government assessment was disputed by one leading expert on gambling harms. “The evidence is clear that gambling advertising drives consumption, which increases harm,” said Dr Matt Gaskell, a consultant psychologist who runs the NHS Northern Gambling Service.

“This is well known internationally, and as a result many European countries have taken action to protect their communities with stringent advertising curbs. Our children, young people, and those experiencing harm or in recovery continue to be exposed to ubiquitous gambling advertising, and the government have chosen to expose them to harm.”

One overarching assessment of research into gambling advertising, published in the journal Public Health earlier this year, called for advertising restrictions. While researchers acknowledged “significant limitations” in the evidence base, they found that “in the absence of definitive controlled studies, the substantial and consistent evidence base supports restrictions to reduce exposure to gambling advertising.”

The demands of broadcasters that make substantial revenues from gambling advertising are understood to be one factor influencing government thinking in what Andrew acknowledged was “a very difficult debate at times”. The government, meanwhile, points to plans to limit direct marketing to gambling customers and a voluntary ban on shirt sponsorship undertaken by the Premier League as signs that they are responding to the problem.

One issue that has impacted the quality of research is a shortage of funding, especially outside that provided directly or indirectly by the gambling industry. Much research in the UK is currently paid for through the industry-funded Gamble Aware. The government says it plans to change this system when a proposed statutory levy on bookmakers comes into effect, with revenues to be ringfenced for government-authorised research.

Andrew insisted a new regulatory regime will be in place by the previously proposed date of summer 2024. “We need greater research … to understand this important piece of work,” he said in relation to gambling harms. “We want to have much better research and evidence and where research shows that there is more work needing to be done in an area, we will be more than happy to do that.”

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