My Big Mouth: Online gambling and payday loan companies are unregulated addictions

By Chris Higgins

There’s no escaping the world of money, especially if you’re unemployed, it’s even harder to escape the wrath of gambling and payday loan companies.

Not only is the country’s benefits system continually updated with more hoops to jump through than an episode of WipeOut, but they’ve also seemingly replaced all the good daytime TV (remember WipeOut?) with a carousel of financial advertisements.

Money certainly is the root of all evil. Only a truly demonic entity would hide itself inside the lifeblood of civilisation, driving men to madness or worse.

So what is there to be said for the suits that peddle more of the cursed stuff at you? Or those that swindle it from under you, cackling as they watch you fritter your hard-earned demon bits away on increasingly unnecessary things. What indeed?

Vague metaphorical intro aside, the surge in marketing over the past few years has seen the payday loans industry quadruple its client base between 2006 and 2009, a total lending of £1.2billion. And despite the massive value of the trade, very little appears to have been done to regulate that lending.

Our cousins in America would find an APR of 15bajillion percent to be just a tad extortionate considering the intended audience for their adverts appears to be those without much money.

But our somewhat ironically named Office of Fair Trading seems to think that’s an acceptable price for trying to make ends meet.

The clear targeting of older or inexperienced users of online loans websites is another worrisome trend, making it as easy as 1-2-click to have £5,000 winging its way to your thirsty bank account.

But nothing treads on the shoes of ‘socially responsible’ advertising like the online gambling racket.

Gambling, like most things fun, is bad for you. Not just financially, it’s genuinely addictive.

The same part of your brain that perks up when you down a pint or smoke a cigarette starts having a lightswitch rave when you drop a grand on lucky number seven.

And like all addictive substances, gambling has strict marketing rules to protect the vulnerable. Right?

Sort of. While alcohol and smoking are shackled with harsh rules on what they can and cannot fool people into believing (with the latter now being banned entirely from the ad game) gambling appears to have shuffled quietly out the back door with only a list of fuzzy guidelines.

They’re there, written down in what looks like an official document, but whatever board is viewing potential adverts and checking the list of DON’Ts is clearly not too invested. I say this because in the last hour on TV I’ve seen two adverts failing the ‘socially responsible’ test.

The first is a madcap adventure in which a man, possibly in a stable relationship with a loving partner who likes facemasks (although the man waking up in his bed at 0:15 suggests otherwise), shows clear signs of crippling gambling addiction.

He can’t put down his laptop to stop playing the slots, he’s in a taxi after work, racking up his mobile data plan, the dressing room after a game of footie with the lads, in bed with his dearest beloved, waking her up with the whoops of victory and, almost certainly, the sighs of defeat.

Replace the laptop in every one of these scenarios with a bottle of Glenn’s and this isn’t an advert, it’s an intervention appeal.

It might be a hard ask to explain how this isn’t in direct contradiction with Section 17: article three, paragraph four of the Committee of Advertising Practices broadcast code.

Whichever direction you look at that ad, it blatantly ‘portrays gambling as indispensable or as taking priority in life; for example, over family, friends or professional or educational commitments’. Even in slow motion reverse.

Our second offender of the hour is this gem where two women honourably attempt to lose a bit of weight and improve their health through a spot of oddly militaristic yoga. But what’s this?

Auntie Addict can’t have that, why better yourself through hard work and effort when you can gain a temporary feeling of elation at the cost of your soul? Or a few hundred quid, whatever Murdoch’s immovable conglomerate is charging these days.

While the pair seem perfectly happy to be lost in a faintly hallucinogenic introduction to online gambling, the Advertising Standards Authority’s rulebook weeps in the corner.

Paragraph five states that marketing materials should never ‘suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal, professional or educational problems’ and what’s more personal than weight issues?

Couple this shocking disregard for the public’s susceptibility to flashing lights with the fact that between these two ads there were 19 loan commercials and it’s no wonder the economy’s circling the drain.

It’s not the mere fact that both are being shown, side-by-side, bane and antidote in the same ad break, but that they’re planned that way.

Some bland board of faceless marketing execs thought it through and decided ‘Yes. That will be most efficient way to earn money’.

And that is what proves to me that, as a nation, we’re not just in debt. We’re morally bankrupt.

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