With the legislative overhaul to UK gambling regulations in motion, one topic likely to be visited soon rather than later is gambling adverts.
Considering that the White Paper informing the changes is largely concerned with the protection of young people – regarded as the most impressionable, and therefore most susceptible to advertising influence – it seems inevitable that advertising regulations will be discussed.
Whilst there’s no doubt that gambling adverts carry some degree of influence, including potentially encouraging problem gambling behaviours, the true extent of the influence remains unclear.
Advertising in the gambling industry has been widely researched, which has, in turn, informed lawmaking, regulations and moral standpoints.
Broadly, the Gambling Commission’s stance is that “advertising of gambling products and services must be undertaken in a socially responsible manner”. However, it also lays out more specific rules regarding misleading adverts, promotional terms, broadcasting timeframes and more.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) outlines rules regarding advert placement.
“Gambling advertising must not appear in media [...] where children or young people make up a significant proportion – more than 25% – of the audience.”
The ASA also has strict rules regarding people who appear in adverts, limiting the appearances of under-25s.
“Marketing communications must not include a child or a young person. No-one who is, or seems to be under-25 years old may be featured gambling. No-one may behave in an adolescent, juvenile or loutish way.”
The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) has, since 2007, published a Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising. The seventh edition of this guide, published in October 2023, makes a few additions to previous iterations, namely that operators should direct 20% of advertisements towards promoting safer gambling. Also, all eligible ads should be targeted at over-25s and clearly marked as “18+”.
Sports sponsorship and advertising
Examples of broadcast restrictions include those which limit Sky gambling adverts before, after, or during live sports.
In 2018, gambling operators began voluntarily adhering to a set of non-regulated guidelines, as broadcasters became concerned that any accidental transgressions would be met with swift and severe repercussions from regulators as well as other operators.
Current guidelines state that gambling adverts should not be screened within five minute windows preceding and following any live sports, unless shown after the 9pm watershed. Consequently, Sky sponsorship adverts tend to occur around 10 minutes before a football match begins, and not during half-time.
By following these guidelines, broadcasters and their sponsors can avoid accusations of promoting in-play betting, which is considered to have significant potential for encouraging hasty decisions and therefore problematic gambling behaviours.
Still, it could be argued that advertising any product is less about triggering individuals to act (indulge even), and more about raising brand awareness, whether that brand is a gambling service, alcohol, or, historically, cigarettes.
Earlier this year, The Guardian rejected all gambling adverts , citing “a clear correlation between exposure to gambling advertising and increased intentions to engage in regular gambling”.
Indeed, studies tend to indicate that further restrictions to advertising could help to reduce harm and curb problem gambling in Britain.
Insights can also be gleaned from other countries whose gambling industry closely reflects that of Britain.
In Australia, for example, gambling adverts were found to be particularly effective when it came to vulnerable people with 40% of at-risk individuals reporting trying a new form of gambling as a result of having seen an advert.
Responsible advertising for responsible gambling
However, there appears to be a positive angle too and it may be the case that careful, considered advertising could play a future role to promote responsible gambling.
In order to devise responsible advertising legislation, it’s important that not all players are treated in the same way. To this end, targeted adverts may be able to help minimise problem gambling among vulnerable players.
Other elements of a responsible advertising campaign would include ensuring that ads don’t appeal to young people, particularly the under-18s, the inclusion of educational materials relating to problem gambling and specific warning signs, and making sure that all adverts are non-exploitative and fully understood by the end user.
These responsibility-promoting adverts should also feature clear “18+” symbols and place emphasis on the entertainment value of gambling, rather than on the possibility of making money, whilst avoiding symbolism associated with children such as cartoon characters, animals, fairy tales and anything considered ‘cuddly’.
A large part of using advertising to promote responsible gambling is effective targeting, ensuring that adverts are only presented to suitable, relevant, non-vulnerable individuals.
Historically, legislation relating to advertising in the gambling industry has been constantly shifting and changing as more statistics, datasets and studies come to light, and it is likely to continue doing so.
Governing authorities should be sure to embrace the responsible gambling culture, and employ advertising as an effective tool for promoting this, rather than shunning it simply as a source of harm.
By doing this, the ASA, UKGC, and IGRG can produce gambling advertisement policies fit for the mobile and emerging tech-dominated future.