During his re-election campaign for London Mayor Sadiq Khan used the demonisation of gambling advertising on the Underground as a part of his platform.
Khan’s re-election manifesto took aim at gambling advertising stating:
“I’ve already banned body-shaming advertisements and advertisements for foods high in fat, salt and sugar on the TfL network because of their impact on the health of Londoners. Given the devastating way gambling addiction can destroy lives and families, I’ll instruct TfL to bring forward plans to extend the ban to harmful gambling advertisements on the network.”
Despite online gambling and its land-based counterpart being a legitimate licensed and regulated part of Great Britain’s business sector Khan felt empowered to compare it to body shaming and to call it a health risk.
This seems like a cheap way to gain the public interest given that London is home to many high-profile casinos and online gambling companies who Khan is happy to take taxes from, receive licensing fees, and the thousands of jobs they create, but felt moved to speak up against ads on the tube?
TFL Give Up The Good Fight
Despite being a blatant attempt at headline-grabbing it worked. Khan was re-elected as the Mayor of London and now facing pressure from the “man in power” Transport for London (TfL) has announced that they will following his wishes and ban gambling ads.
A TfL spokesperson politely said:
“We have been asked by the mayor to consider restricting gambling advertising campaigns on our network. We are assessing how this will be implemented and will be engaging with a range of stakeholders to inform this.”
One of the challenges faced by the TfL is that the funding it generates from its advertising campaigns is all invested back into the London Underground. Khan’s previous Mayoral bid request to ban fast-food advertising cost the network nearly £25 million in annual ad revenues.
Considering the TfL's ad revenues were already reduced to around £150 million for 2020/21 the further loss of ads for online casinos, land-based casinos, bingo, and other forms of gambling could see them lose tens of millions in a time when the income is sorely needed.
The Darkest Part of the Night
The TfL has shown Khan and those Mayoral candidates who follow him that the financial wellbeing of the tube is not something they need to consider when looking for an easy way to hook public attention.
In addition to the ban on fast foods given the obesity levels in London, fitness-related advertising as it promotes body shaming and now gambling as Londoners cannot manage their own finances the mayor’s office is also after “risky investment” ads.
Another pet peeve of Khan’s is advertising that promotes investment vehicles and opportunities he personally does not either agree with or understand. This lack of insight led to an advertisement for a cryptocurrency exchange being pulled because it encouraged the purchase of Bitcoin!
Yet the advertisement had previously been approved by the TfL having passed its consumer safety and legitimacy requirements with flying colours. The only reason it was pulled was due to a direct “request” by Khan.
Clearly, Khan is willing to use his office to enforce his personal views on the world, rather than allowing legitimate industries to try to regain their feet after the challenges of the pandemic. In the process, he is wiping away millions in TfL funding for which he is yet to offer a concrete solution for replacing.