New rules hit gambling brands targeting under-18s

Online gambling ads featuring animated characters, celebrities or influencers who appeal to under-18s will be banned to protect children from harm.

New standards will limit the way gambling brands advertise online to protect children from the potential risks associated with “irresponsible” advertising.

Coming into force on 1 April, the guidelines devised by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), which is responsible for writing and maintaining the UK advertising codes, will prohibit online ads for gambling products being targeted at individuals likely to be aged under 18. These standards cover all digital media including social networks and other online platforms.

Content deemed unacceptable includes animated characters, licensed characters from film or TV shows, sportspeople or celebrities who particularly appeal to children, or references to ‘youth culture’. The standard also prohibits the use in gambling ads of sportspeople, celebrities or other characters who are, or appear to be, under 25.

The standards come into force just two days after a BBC Panorama investigation detailed the story of a 13-year-old who lost money on a gambling-style game promoted by a 17-year-old YouTube influencer. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, is now calling on social media companies that fail to tackle irresponsible advertising by influencers to be fined or shut down.

Shahriar Coupal, CAP director, believes it is “ill-advised” for gambling advertisers to play at the “margins of compliance”, especially when the welfare of children is at stake. He is, therefore, urging advertisers to take greater care in the placement and content of gambling ads to ensure they are not inadvertently targeted at under-18s.

Looking specifically at social media, CAP insists gambling brands must use all the tools available to them on the platform to prevent their ads being targeted at under-18s. This includes using ad targeting facilities provided by the platform, paying attention to data relating to the user’s interests and browsing behaviour, and utilising any tools which restrict under-18s’ access to the brand’s own social media content.

Sarah Hanratty, CEO of the Senet Group, the body which promotes responsible gambling standards, praises CAP for taking a tougher stance on adverts with the potential to appeal to children.

“We welcome this beefed up guidance from CAP, which gives sensible advice to brands on how to prevent advertising from appealing to children. Children can’t gamble legally on any platform and operators must make sure effective measures are in place to prevent this, or risk substantial fines from the Gambling Commission,” she adds.

READ MORE: ‘Exploitative’ gambling ads face tougher regulation

In a statement GambleAware said it was pleased to see the new advertising standards come into force given that 55,000 11-16 year olds are classed as problem gamblers and argued that it is only right steps are taken to address this “serious public health issue”. The charity urged regulators to keep pace with the evolution of marketing, as it expressed serious concern that gambling is “being normalised for children” due to the sheer volume of gambling marketing they are exposed to.

The new standards relate specifically to online advertising as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) revealed last month that children’s exposure to gambling adverts on television is declining.

Data from 2017, the latest year covered by the report, shows children see an average of 161.2 TV ads per week, of which 2.8 are for gambling products. Compared to 2013, when exposure peaked at 229.3 ads per week, children’s exposure to gambling ads on TV is down by 37.3%.

Strict guidance

Following the introduction of new online ad standards, gambling operators are urged to avoid placing their adverts on parts of websites with particular appeal to under-18s, such as a site for a football club dedicated to young supporters. Furthermore, CAP has ruled that social and online games which feature marketing about gambling games should not be directed at under-18s.

When working with influencers gambling brands should take into account the influencer’s appeal and obtain an age-breakdown of the follower or subscriber-base to ensure under-18s do not comprise more than 25% of the audience. There is also a responsibility to ensure affiliates, or other third parties acting on the brand’s behalf to publish or disseminate ads, comply with the CAP standards.

The new standards are the result of a review of evidence on advertising’s impact on under-18s carried out by the ASA, which has recently banned a number of online gambling ads it deemed as having the potential to appeal to children.

In June last year, the ASA banned ads appearing on the Cal Interactive website for three different games – Rainbow Riches, Fishin Frenzy and Lucky Wizard – which featured animated images of rainbows, leprechauns, fish and wizards.

Gambling site came under fire in January 2018 for advertising a trio of games using animated images of fairies, wolves and pixies, while in February last year the ASA banned an ad for William Hill Vegas which appeared within the New MarioKart 8 Trick app, ruling that the app could have under-18s among its audience.

Last year CAP rolled out a set of tougher general standards on gambling advertising, focusing on adverts that appeal to problem gamblers with free bets and bonuses. Under the new standards, which came into effect on 2 April 2018, ads are restricted in their ability to create an “inappropriate sense of urgency” to place a bet or use language which curbs the trivialisation of gambling, such as encouraging repetitive play.