The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has joined calls for a ban on gambling advertising during all live sports coverage, saying gambling should be “relegated” to corner shops and betting slips.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann warned that youngsters are being “radicalised” by many sport stars who are promoting gambling on their jerseys and appear alongside various other betting adverts in match day programmes and on hoarding and billboards around stadiums.
“As a pastor and confessor I know only too well the vast swathes of destruction addiction to gambling brings with it in its wake,” Mgr Felzmann, who is also the CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, told The Catholic Universe.
“While betting and sport are so closely intertwined on shirts and programmes, gambling will continue to be sees as cool. Young people are easily radicalised by their sporting role models.
“Like smoking – which destroys physical health – gambling, which destroys lives, should be relegated to corner shops and betting slips, as it was when I was young, and taken off our TV screens.”
His call came as Tory MP Richard Graham (Gloucester) raised the issue in the House of Commons.
“The Gambling Commission should consider banning gambling advertising during live sport altogether,” he told MPs.
He added: “Will it be the tobacco of this generation? Something that once was widely advertised, then restricted, and now banned from advertising altogether.
“Will those damaged, or even killed by gambling be our legacy? Or is this our chance to get the balance right between funding sport, using technology, and having the right protections to prevent tragedy?”
In a Ten Minute Rule motion to the House, Mr Graham said there should be a levy on the revenue of gambling firms.
The Gambling (Industry Levy Review And Protections For Vulnerable People) Bill will call for the money raised to go to help research the effects of gambling addiction, funding gambling addiction clinics, and improving safeguards for children and vulnerable people.
Mr Graham said: “This Bill aims to help a different sort of vulnerability, that of the increasing amount of addiction to gambling which, in extreme circumstances, has led, and does lead, to suicide.
“There is nothing more sad than meeting a constituent, or non-constituent, who has lost a child to suicide from the pressures of gambling debts.
“Even one life destroyed by gambling is too many, and the depressing thing is that we simply do not know how many people have committed suicide from gambling. The only statistics available suggest that last year between 250 and 650 gamblers committed suicide.”
Mr Graham said the problem is “urgent” and is getting worse.
He said more than 55,000 young people under 14 are already addicted, 430,000 adults have serious gambling issues, and another two million are “at risk”.
Mr Graham said “ultimately, it was Parliament that opened the door to online gambling”, and noted that MPs have a “special responsibility” to improve the situation.
He said money raised from a levy could help fund addiction clinics.
It could also go towards helping stronger “self-exclusion”, allowing people to effectively block themselves from gambling.
He said this could be done through facial recognition technology.
He also said banks should be able to identify gambling problems.
Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) said it “wholeheartedly supports” such a mandatory levy, as it would be a way to ensure gambling firms pay their fair share towards funding gambling addiction services.
“There is no doubt the current voluntary deal is simply not working, and Mr Graham is right to call on the Government to review the existing arrangements,” James Mildred, CARE’s communications manager, told The Catholic Universe.
“We also support a ban on betting ads around live sporting events.
“Anyone watching the recent World Cup could not fail to notice how we were bombarded with gambling ads well before the 9pm watershed.
“The awful examples of gambling addiction leading to suicides is a huge reminder that we need to do more to protect some of the most vulnerable in society,” Mr Mildred continued.
“While for some, gambling remains harmless fun, for a significant minority it causes devastation and too many lives are being ruined. It’s up to all of us, from MPs to charities to individuals to take a stand.”
The Gambling (Industry Levy Review And Protections For Vulnerable People) Bill will return for its second reading on 10th May.
This weekend’s Premier League fixtures:
Friday 3rd May
Everton v Burnley – 8:00pm
Saturday 4th May
AFC Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur – 12:30pm
West Ham United v Southampton – 3:00pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham – 3:00pm
Cardiff City v Crystal Palace – 5:30pm
Newcastle United v Liverpool – 7:45pm
Sunday 5th May
Chelsea v Watford – 2:00pm
Huddersfield Town v Manchester United – 2:00pm
Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion – 4:30pm
Monday 6th May
Manchester City v Leicester City – 8:00pm
Picture: A smartphone user accesses the Ladbrokes gambling website while watching a football match on television. (John Stillwell/PA).