Government stops short of gambling ad ban but demands more action on targeting

The government’s long-awaited gambling white paper, released today, has called for more action from the industry on targeting, promotions and data use. 

Gambling brands have escaped any ban on advertising but have been warned they must do more to curb the targeting of vulnerable consumers online, and must offer “greater control” to consumers who want to opt out of receiving promotional offers and other forms of marketing.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport has published its long-awaited gambling whitepaper today (27 April), setting out its plans to better regulate and manage the industry.

Despite calls from charities for a blanket ban on advertising, the government has opted for softer measures.

The government says it wants customers to have “greater control” over the types of marketing they receive. A further consultation is to take place with the Gambling Commission to determine details.

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The practice of offering customers free bets and bonuses will be reviewed “to ensure there are clear rules and fair limits on re-wagering requirements and time limits so they do not encourage excessive or harmful gambling”.

Meanwhile, the whitepaper states gambling operators should go further in how they use technology to target online ads away from children and vulnerable people.

“We welcome that some major online platforms have introduced the facility for customers to opt-out of all gambling adverts, and strongly encourage others to do so,” it says.

Related, there will some curbs on the use of data by brands. There will now be provisions to ensure consumer data is “effectively protected” and only used for harm prevention. “We are clear it must never be deployed to further commercial objectives such as through marketing, customer segmentation or identifying winners,” it says.

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The whitepaper also lays out plans to continue to monitor gambling brands’ ‘VIP schemes’, which reward loyal customers who spend more with brands, to “make sure they are not used to exploit at-risk gamblers”.

To mitigate harmful advertising, the government plans to strengthen its informational messaging when it comes to gambling associated risks, “from information at the point of purchase to messages within advertising”. It will work with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Gambling Commission to develop a “new, evidence-based model for independently developed safer gambling messages”.

The government says it “welcomes” voluntary action for the industry but says it hasn’t gone far enough.

Advertising rules changed ahead of the white paper to limit how sportspeople feature in campaigns, and the Premier League recently announced it’ll be removing gambling brand logos from the front of player’s shirts from the end of the 2025/26 season.

Elsewhere, the proposed industry reforms include a statutory levy on the gambling industry’s profits to fund treatment and research and a reduction in online stakes from £15 to £2.

ASA: The volume of gambling ads is driving distrust of advertising“We welcome the clarity provided by the white paper and look forward to engaging with government and industry bodies in future consultations,” says Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association.

“It is worth noting the Advertising Standards Authority takes a zero-tolerance approach to code breaches. All gambling companies must use advertising responsibly and follow requirements that all advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful,” he adds.

While it’s not yet clear how brands will respond to the proposals, Robin Hutchison, director at Square in the Air, the PR firm that represents the likes of William Hill, 888sport and Sporting Index, says there’s a “sense of relief that it is finally here after years in the making and, given the long-running speculation, the results don’t come as a total shock.”

Hutchison adds: “The betting and gaming industry is not only a British success story but incredibly resilient. Our clients take their responsibilities to their customers seriously and I’m sure they will roll with the regulatory punches as they have done in the past, adapting their products and marketing accordingly.”

Gambling with Lives, a charity which supports families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, welcomes the white paper but says reforms must go further.

“After a long fight we’ve won concessions on some of the key areas but so much more needs to happen to reduce the horrendous harm caused by one of the most loosely regulated gambling industries in the world,” says Liz Ritchie, co-founder of the charity.

“We’ve won the argument against a powerful gambling lobby but this is just the beginning. There’s another family devastated by gambling suicide every day, and we won’t stop until the deaths do.”