David Bullard asks why tobacco ads are taboo on radio, but online gambling ads are not


There is a regular advert on the radio station I listen to for online gambling. This is on a radio station that carries no advertising for tobacco products (are they even allowed to advertise these days?) or for alcohol (also probably not allowed to advertise).

Indeed, listening to an afternoon show I got the impression that they are not even permitted to admit the existence of alcoholic beverages during prime time listening hours lest the weak and susceptible raid the local bottle store or the underaged sneak down to Dad’s drinks cupboard in the dead of night and put his treasured bottle of Lagavulin 16 year old to their lips.

So we are to be protected from alcohol and ciggies but not from online gambling…. for our own good naturally. Now I’m not a prescriptive type of person and I believe that man should be free to live his life as he wishes and if he stuffs up; well it’s his own fault. I find the whole idea of allowing online gambling adverts but not allowing adverts for booze, tobacco products or even soft recreational drugs a little bit hypocritical; particularly considering the wording and the presentation of the radio advertisement.

Let’s call the company JollyGoodBets to save the advertiser from embarrassment. The ad opens with what Don Corleone would call ‘an offer you can’t refuse’. You can win millions apparently every day by just going online, registering, handing over a few personal particulars, parting with your credit card details and you are offered an array of opportunities to increase your net asset value. Then comes the spiel at an unpunctuated speaking pace that no normal human could be expected to process and it goes a bit like this:

JollyGoodBetsaregisteredonlinegamblingthingy JollyGoodBetssupportsresponsiblegambling winnersknowhentostop noundereighteensarepermittedtobet thebettinghelplineisblahblahblah.

This is all wonderful stuff but spoken at such speed that you know it has to be bullshit. For example, let’s take the claim that JollyGoodBets supports responsible gambling which is about as believable as saying that BMW supports responsible, within the speed limit, driving or that Johnnie Walker supports responsible alcoholism.

If it were responsible then it wouldn’t be much fun and you wouldn’t be selling many products. You don’t buy a Beemer to sit carefully within the 120km/h top speed limit. Otherwise what would be the point of the ‘M’ series and the 0-100km/h dash? You don’t splash out R2.5 mln on a BMW M5 that can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.3 seconds and has a top speed of over 300km/h just to pop down to the bowls club at a sedate 118km/h (just to be on the safe side). You buy a car like that with the express purpose of breaking all the rules of the road whenever possible. BMW have never, as far as I know, claimed to support responsible driving because it would completely destroy their brand value.

Similarly, Johnnie Walker or indeed any other premium booze brand are hardly going to be adding much to their bottom line if they ‘responsibly’ sell to the sort of people who carefully measure out a 25ml tot of an evening and call it a day at that. Real whisky drinkers measure their tots in fingers and there’s nothing responsible about that I can assure you.

So this claim of supporting responsible gambling is absolute nonsense as is the ludicrous claim that ‘winners know when to stop’. As if it’s your fault that you’ve just blown your monthly pay packet on gambling you loser. Why didn’t you quit while you were ahead? Oh… you never were ahead… What a surprise, and that’s why you didn’t quit?

Now if JollyGoodBets was urging you to stop gambling the moment you lost your first bet then that might carry some credibility but since the whole point of running an online gambling service is to convince people that they can become enormously wealthy without having to do a stroke of work then that might affect the business model negatively.

Winners may know when to stop but since they are almost as rare these days as people who voted for the Nats pre 1994 what you really want for a successful online gambling business to flourish is addicted losers. People who return over and over again for a chance to win back what they have already lost plus a chance of taking a little bit extra home.

Sadly, that’s not the way it works though. If the odds weren’t in favour of the house there would be no casinos and no online gambling.

My own gambling experiences are limited to the odd visit to Sun City where I wouldn’t even bother to sit at the roulette table because I knew I wasn’t going to be there very long. I did once sit at a blackjack table and left with more chips that I had bought earlier that evening but that was nothing to do with skill and everything to do with luck.

Gambling in South Africa is impoverishing desperate people who can ill afford to lose money. I know of people who buy Lotto tickets every week in the hope that their lives will change with a sudden massive win. Have you ever heard of anyone who has won a fortune on the Lotto? I never have and I find that very odd because when people won fortunes on Littlewoods Football pools in the UK there would be a rags to riches story in the tabloids within days.

There would even be a rags to riches and back to rags story if the winner blew the entire fortune within a year and went back to poverty after crashing all the Ferraris and being conned out of the winnings on a dubious nightclub development in Benidorm.

But we’re heard nothing in all the time the Lotto has been running. I know that winners are able to request no publicity but if you’ve just moved from a zinc shack in Khayelitsha to a R30 million mansion next door to Paul Mashatile in Constantia then surely somebody is going to notice and talk?

But, as far as I am aware it has never happened which makes me wonder why we don’t hear more about those who won big on the lottery in this country. Because the mainstream media are a nosy bunch and all keen for a good story and what better than a rags to riches story of a man who put his entire welfare payment on the Lotto and bagged the R14 million jackpot.

The problem with online gambling though is it’s so easy. You don’t need to visit a casino or a betting shop. All you need to do is log on and lose a fortune through a couple of unfortunate keystrokes after your wife has gone to bed at night. And by the time you phone the gambling helpline it’s almost certainly too late because you’ve already defaulted on the car payments and taken the kids out of private school.

So my question is quite simply this. How can a woke radio station in good conscience run adverts for online gambling which it must know (there are plenty of available statistics) can be potentially far more dangerous than recreational drugs, alcohol or tobacco? Or does the advertising revenue make it all worthwhile?


My thanks to all those who sent very kind comments following my column last week about the 30th birthday of the Out to Lunch column; they were most appreciated. A festive lunch was held last Friday at a wine farm in Somerset West to celebrate the event and I was hugely honoured that several very valued friends travelled long distances to be present. Writing a weekly column has been one of the most surprising privileges and delights of my life. But we’re not done yet…