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The advertising of gambling continues to be in the spotlight. Recently there have been a number of rulings from both the UK Advertising Standards Authority and the Gambling Commission as the thorny issue of advertising gambling continues to cause concern for regulators.
Earlier this year, BGO Entertainment was hit with a hefty penalty from the Gambling Commission, the body that regulates commercial gambling in Great Britain in partnership with licensing authorities.
BGO was fined £300,000 for misleading advertisements about promotions that failed to comply with Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice social responsibility requirements. Among other things, the LCCP require that adverts and offers, including “free bet” offers, do not mislead customers and clearly state significant limitations and qualifications.
This responsibility doesn’t stop there − the LCCP requirements extend to all areas of marketing including social media and make operators responsible for third parties contracted to provide any aspect of the operator’s regulated business, which includes marketing afiliates and advertising networks.
None of this is new. The free−bets provision was introduced in 2015 and specific social media requirements were introduced into the IGRG Code for Socially Responsible Gambling in February, 2016, (although the code of the Committees of Advertising Practice − the “CAP code” − already applied to social media). But what has perhaps changed is the Gambling Commission’s approach to enforcement.
At its Raising Standards conference last November, the commission gave a clear indication that marketing was a focus area, there was particular concern about the behaviour of some afiliates, and the commission was ready to take action. The commission repeated this message at ICE Totally Gaming at ExCeL in London in February and, on July 5, following consultation, published its revised enforcement strategy.
This makes clear there is no longer a bias in favour of settlement, so making licence reviews more likely, and introduces higher penalties for non−compliance particularly where there are repeated failings.
The BGO action was the first example of this approach, with the fine relating to nine advertisements on its own website and 14 on afiliates’ websites. BGO’s breaches of the social responsibility code − and its repeated failure to take timely and effective action to address these issues when raised by the commission − cast doubt on BGO’s suitability to carry on its licensed activities.
Hot on the heels of the BGO fine, a second illustration of the commission’s new approach is Lottoland’s £150,000 fine in June for its own, and its afiliates’, actions. The LCCP requires operators to comply with the CAP and (for broadcast advertising) BCAP codes of practice administered by the ASA.
In February, the ASA upheld a complaint against a Lottoland radio ad on the grounds that it failed to make clear to players that they were betting on the outcome of lotteries, rather than participating in a lottery, and the Gambling Commission found the same issue occurred in Lottoland’s third−party marketing, website and social media promotions. In Great Britain, lotteries differ from other gambling products as part of the proceeds must go to good causes, so the distinction is particularly important.
Marketing materials must not be likely to be of particular appeal to under−18s, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture. In particular, operators must not include a child or a young person (under 18) in marketing communications, and anyone who is − or seems to be − under 25 years old must not be featured gambling or play a significant role in the marketing material (with a limited exception for 18 to 24 year olds who are the subject of the bet − such as young sports players).
Use of comic−book characters and superheroes can be problematic unless the audience for such advertisements is strictly controlled. In August, 2016, the ASA found an email advertisement for Ladbrokes casino featuring Iron Man to be socially irresponsible but recently reversed this ruling on appeal on the basis the recipients of the email had all been validated as being over 18.
Additionally, under a new condition introduced in October, 2016, gambling operators must ensure that they do not advertise on websites “providing unauthorised access to copyright content”. Again, operators are responsible for their afiliates: they must take all reasonable steps to ensure that their marketing and media agencies do not place their advertisements on such websites, and must reserve the right to terminate the appointment if an agency does so.
All operators in the gambling industry looking to avoid the attention of the regulator are expected to take heed of all advertisingƒ marketing rules set out by the authorities and to learn from the experiences of others such as BGO and Lottoland.
The gambling industry is extremely competitive and with operators looking for any possible advantage, there’s perhaps a natural temptation for operators and their marketing agencies to push the boundaries. But operators also have a social responsibility and the commission is clearly keen that operators put the consumer first, and take the initiative in relation to social responsibility rather than merely complying with the strict regulatory requirements.
With competition intense, one thing that definitely won‘t help operators is falling foul of the rules around advertising, so this is an area that requires close attention.