David Clifton, Licensing Expert: Gambling advertising moves to its next chapter

David Clifton

Not that long ago, gambling advertising was far from the highly controversial subject it has become in more recent times. Re-reading findings from 2014 research into public perceptions of gambling advertising in the UK”, commissioned by the Advertising Standards Authority, makes me realise just how much both public sentiment and the regulatory mood have changed since then.

Six years ago, a majority of the respondents to that research considered gambling to be a common and relatively normal leisure pursuit. As long as gambling advertising was not misleading, inaccurate or specifically targeted at children, few people were inclined to be harsh in their judgements. One notable finding was that children’s exposure to sports betting was not considered to be a significant problem.

How times have changed! Not least amongst the reasons for that was the 2018 football World Cup that saw a marked rise in complaints concerning the sheer volume of gambling adverts, with a particular focus on the amount of gambling ads reaching children.

It has not all been bad news, however, with the Gambling Commission noting in September 2019 that “we’ve seen some positive outcomes – such as the whistle to whistle’ ban – which stops adverts during live sporting events”.

Equally gratifying have been the findings of a recent study commissioned by the Betting and Gaming Council that, as a consequence of the whistle to whistle ban, (a) the number of betting ads seen by children has fallen by 97% and (b) overall, the amount of gambling ads viewed by them has fallen by 70% over the full duration of live sport programmes.

In addition, progress achieved earlier this year by the Safer Advertising Online working group in response to the Commission’s Advertising Technology challenge was acknowledged by the regulator in April when it said “the Gambling Commission’s view is that the industry has developed an appropriate set of commitments which should help further limit exposure to online gambling adverts by vulnerable groups”.

It’s not all been good news, however.

The ASA has just announced that four gambling operators have breached its age-restricted advertising rules, with 70 different betting ads appearing on 8 websites that the ASA considered were aimed at, or attracted a disproportionately large audience of, children.

So what lies ahead now on the gambling advertising front?

In June, the Gambling Related Harm APPG’s Online Gambling Harm Inquiry report called for a ban on gambling advertising, marketing and inducements across all channels. Its reasoning is that “advertising encourages people to gamble” and “clear risks exist in exposing children to gambling advertising”. The APPG is likely to regard the ASA’s announcement as vindicating its view that such a blanket ban should be imposed.

A more measured view was taken in July by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, who called for independent research to establish the links between gambling advertising and gambling-related harm.

However, it certainly didn’t stop there. It also recommended a ban on (a) ads objectively seen as offering inducements to people to start or to continue gambling, or that create a sense of urgency about placing bets, (b) communications offering inducements to bet, unless the recipients have agreed to take part in VIP schemes and (c) sports team kit sponsorship and gambling advertising within venues (otherwise than in the case of horseracing and greyhound racing).

It is against the above-described background that the Betting and Gaming Council has unveiled the 6th edition of the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising that will come into effect on 1 October 2020.

It contains new provisions that are “designed to better protect children and vulnerable consumers online”. Those provisions include the commitments welcomed by the Gambling Commission back in April.

It is essential that all UK licensed operators take very careful note of this updated Industry Code, bearing in mind that LCCP Ordinary Code provision 5.1.8 expressly provides that “Licensees should follow any relevant industry code on advertising, notably the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising”.

The principal new requirements of the Industry Code are summarised below:

Social media marketing

  • Sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted at consumers aged 25+. This requirement relates solely to prospecting campaigns where the targeted audience is not already verified through an operator’s own age verification processes;
  • Given improvements in identification technology if a social media platform can verifiably prove that its age gating systems can prevent under 18s from accessing the gambling advertising content, a possibility exists that the above age filter may be reduced to 18+;
  • Organic YouTube content produced by an operator as well an operator’s own YouTube channels must be age-restricted to 18+ to ensure users log in to age-verified accounts in order to view content;
  • Operators should undertake reasonable endeavours to exclude from their paid-for social media campaigns (a) customers with an active self-exclusion or cool-off period and (b) those assessed by an operator as ‘higher risk’;
  • Operators must use their own social media pages to post frequent safer gambling related information.

Promoting consumer awareness 

  • Operators must provide information (in an easily accessible and sufficiently prominent manner) on how customers can limit their exposure to gambling advertising across social media platforms.

 Search activity 

  • Search advertisements must clearly contain 18+ messaging in the ad copy, along with safer gambling messaging within the core ad format;
  • The BGC will collate (and regularly update) a shared blacklist of negative keywords, against which no gambling advertising should be served. This blacklist will include keywords that (a) indicate vulnerability and (b) relate to children. Operators must, “in a timely fashion”, incorporate the keyword blacklist into all relevant campaigns where applicable;
  • These requirements will also apply to any affiliate marketing carried out on behalf of an operator.

Affiliate compliance 

  • All affiliates must be subject to due diligence and PEPS/sanctions checks. KYC checks should also be conducted, wherever relevant.
  • Affiliates must comply with all relevant regulatory and legislative requirements including CAP’s guidance on ensuring advertisements are obviously identifiable as such. In order to promote consistency, all relevant affiliate ads should be clearly and prominently marked ‘#ad’;
  • Relevant affiliates must share safer gambling related content on a regular basis with each individual operator with whom that affiliate has an agreement;
  • It is expected that (a) compliance with the above requirements will be managed by way of contractual obligations imposed by operators and (b) operators will terminate relationships with affiliates that cannot or do not comply, the Code adding that this will be “preferably on a one strike and you’re out rule” basis.

In my view, some of the new provisions within the Industry Code need greater clarity, and I will be taking this up with Brigid Simmonds, Chair of the BGC, during our keynote interview session at KnowNow’s annual Responsible Marketing for Gambling Operatorsconference in October.

Finally, for those readers with a particular interest in the subject of gambling advertising, a thought-provoking article by Professor Mark Griffiths (a speaker at a previous KnowNow conference) was published by the European Gaming & Betting Association in the Winter 2019 edition of Online Gambling Focus” published by the European Gaming & Betting Association. It is well worth a read.

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David Clifton – Director – ‎Clifton Davies Consultancy Limited

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