‘Exploitative’ gambling ads face tougher regulation

New standards from the ad regulator aim to prevent appeals to those vulnerable to gambling problems, particularly urgent calls to action.

The UK’s ad regulator is cracking down on gambling ads that exploit vulnerable people and “play fast and loose” with eye-catching free bet and bonus offers.

From 2 April 2018, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) will enforce much stricter regulation on advertising that creates an “inappropriate sense of urgency”, such as ‘Bet Now!’ ads, and those that encourage repetitive play – alongside ads that place “undue emphasis” on money-motives for gambling.

CAP has also pledged to provide greater detail on problem gambling behaviours and vulnerable groups that it says marketers need to protect.

While CAP says problem gambling rates have remained relatively stable over the last few years, the market has grown significantly since the 2005 Gambling Act liberalised gambling advertising in the UK – especially with the growth of online platforms.

A recent study by the BBC found that 95% of TV ad breaks during live football matches feature at least one gambling ad.

CAP says: “Although the overall impact is small, the evidence points to potential risk factors in the form of claims, imagery or approaches that might unduly influence people to behave irresponsibly.

“That’s why CAP is setting tougher standards to tackle any potential for harm. Ads must not play on individuals’ susceptibilities (financial concerns, self-esteem) or contain anything that might exploit vulnerable groups such as those with problem gambling issues.”

The rules are the first of a number of activities planned for 2018 in an effort to raise public awareness of the risks associated with gambling.

These include new guidelines to protect children from gambling and a major new media campaign led by GambleAware. The campaign will run for two years, with a committed spend of between £5m and £7m each year, across TV – including live sport – radio, cinema, print and online.

READ MORE: ASA chairman speaks out about the ‘gamblification of sport’

The advertising industry has welcomed the news.

“The new guidelines on responsibility and problem gambling are an essential and welcome addition to the UK advertising codes for gambling,” said Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association.

“Our industry recognises the gambling sector is one which requires close, consistent and effective monitoring by our own regulatory bodies, as well as concerted effort through public education campaigns that use the ability of advertising to affect positive social change.”

Meanwhile, Phil Smith, director general at ISBA – the voice of British advertisers –  said it will continue to work with CAP and BCAP to develop further guidance, specifically around children, and that it is also working with GambleAware to help plan and develop its new campaign.

The majority of complaints the Advertising Standards Authority – the body that enforces the advertising codes – receives about gambling ads are about the requirement for consumers to make a deposit to access their “free bets/bonus”, or the number of times they must then wager their “free bet” and deposit money before they are allowed to withdraw any winnings.

The new guidelines will also make it clear that “money back” offers must be in cash and not bonuses; “risk free” offers must incur no loss to the consumer; and when it comes to “matched bets”, any stake limitation should be treated as a significant condition and stated upfront.

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