Caught by a sting
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has caught five online gambling platforms in breach of regulations by regarding targeting children with their ads.
Advertising regulations are naturally strict on gambling laws because people do not want underage people being exposed to pro-gambling messages. This can make the activity seem normal to their developing brains, leaving them with a higher chance of developing problems with gambling when older.
The ASA set up a sting by making a few different avatars to pose as children when browsing the internet. This was done to mimic the experience a child would have when online.
The operation revealed what sort of gambling ads kids are being exposed to. The ASA is using this new tactic to monitor a variety of industries. It is, for example, looking at ads from junk food companies and alcohol brands that potentially target underage children.
Currently, the ASA cannot monitor sites that need log-ins, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, all popular platforms for advertisers. But it is actively looking into ways in which it can do so.
Blaming third parties
The ASA ran its operation over a two-week period. It found ads from 43 different online gambling platforms that were being shown on online outlets that are free to access. This included 20 channels on YouTube and more than two dozen websites for children.
Of these instances, the regulator singled out five specific operators – PlayOjo, Unibet, Multilotto, Redbet and the Vikings Video Slot. All were in violation of the UK advertising code, which does not allow gambling ads to target people under 18 years old.
During the monitoring process, 23 specific ads appeared on 151 occasions on the 11 children’s websites they looked at. No ads on the YouTube channels were breaking the advertising rules.
The biggest breaker of the code was Vikings Video Slot. It was responsible for 10 of the 23 ads, as well as 122 of the 151 times these ads appeared.
According to the ASA, these five companies accepted they had broken the rules. However, most of them claimed the reason for the breaches was down to the third-party firms they had hired to run ad campaigns who were making the mistakes.
Unibet is the most notable of these companies, being the training kit sponsor for Aston Villa Football Club in the past. Its owner is the Kindred Group, which also operates the 32Red gambling brand, Aston Villa’s current kit sponsor.
The head of communications for the Kindred Group said: “The advert was served due to a fault in that third party’s systems and the fault has been addressed. The advert did not lead to under-18 gambling.”
Problem gambling in the UK
There is an ongoing campaign in the UK to fight the tide of gambling ads. Sport, in particular, is full of gambling advertising, from the shirt sponsors to billboard advertising at games to television ads. Young people see sports people they look up to appearing in these advertising campaigns, and it makes it seem cool and an activity they should get involved in.
Gambling addiction levels in the UK are on the rise. According to a recent study, about 400,000 people suffer from gambling addiction. Another 2 million are deemed to be problem gamblers and another 540,000 are at risk.
There are many instances of gambling operators failing to meet their obligations to protect people struggling with gambling addiction.
For example, in August 2017, online gambling operator 888 was fined almost £8m |($10.5m). It had failed to adequately protect problem gamblers on its self-exclusion list. These people were able to use other 888 platforms to continue gambling.
The situations is improving now somewhat. To date, there has been only a single center that focuses on treating gambling addiction in the UK. But now a second such clinic is opening in Leeds this month, and others in the works for the future.
The government this month also cut the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals from £100 ($131) to £2 ($2.62). These terminals are very addictive, so this move aims to minimize the damage these machines can inflict. This change came into place on April 1, 2019.