Entain Players’ Panel Campaign Under Attack Amid Astroturfing Accusations

  • The Players' Panel website publishes pro-gambling articles written by betting customers
  • Entain excluded its name from the initiative's Facebook page, prompting astroturfing claims
  • The operator received criticism for its choice of campaign partner and lack of panel vetting
  • Various safer gambling bodies voiced their concerns, but Entain denied misleading the public
Various hands pointing out of a laptop screen
In the UK, Entain has received criticism for a new pro-gambling campaign which safer gambling bodies have likened to astroturfing. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Under the spotlight

UK-based gambling operator Entain has received criticism for creating a customer lobby group with the aim of displaying a positive side to betting.

Entain, previously GVC Holdings, launched the Players’ Panel initiative in January this year. The Ladbrokes owner said it intended to “balance the debate on betting and gambling” by providing examples of positive experiences. The website publishes pro-gambling articles written by Entain customers.

the company did not initially include its branding on the initiative’s Facebook page

The controversial move has prompted criticism from various safer gambling groups for its lack of transparency. Although Entain’s name appears on the Players’ Panel website, the company did not initially include its branding on the initiative’s Facebook page.

As a result, safer gambling representatives likened the campaign to astroturfing. This is a controversial marketing method in which corporate-funded initiatives are promoted under the guise of grassroots campaigns supported by members of the public.

Initiative background and controversy

Entain announced the launch of its Player’s Panel in a company statement in February. Through the initiative, it said it intended to represent the 99% of UK consumers who bet safely and responsibly. The company cited the current review of the Gambling Act 2005 in its reasoning for the campaign.

UK MPs are currently conducting a review of UK gambling law, otherwise known as the Gambling Act 2005. The process, which began in December last year, will see lawmakers consider a number of issues. This includes loot boxes, the introduction of stake limits for online gambling and a possible ban on gambling sponsorship for UK soccer teams. Entain said it intended to represent positive views of the industry to balance this Gambling Act debate.

In order to launch the initiative, the Ladbrokes owner partnered with political consultancy company CT Group. According to a 2019 investigation by The Guardian, this group conducted a series of Facebook astroturfing campaigns for dozens of clients in the past. The investigation, which included testimony from company whisteblowers, found that CT Group had spread misinformation on anonymised Facebook pages.

In addition to accusations of astroturfing, Entain also came under fire for failings in its vetting process for panel members. One contributor to the Players’ Panel website previously publicized his racist and homophic views on his Facebook page. Entain has since removed the man from its panel.

A strong response

Speaking with The Guardian, various responsible gambling bodies in the UK voiced criticism of the campaign this week. Matt Zarb-Cousin, director of Clean Up Gambling, said the initiative attempted to mislead the public by presenting an image of the gambling sector “distinct from the reality.”

The industry would do well to operate in a transparent and cautious manner”

Meanwhile, Lord Foster of Bath, chair of Peers for Gambling Reform, urged Entain to increase transparency regarding the initiative’s intentions. He also called for the company to detail their vetting process for panel members. Amid the current review of the UK’s gambling regulation, he said “the industry would do well to operate in a transparent and cautious manner.”

In response, Entain has rejected accusations of astroturfing and denied CT Group’s direct involvement in management of the Players’ Panel. The group insisted that the views expressed on its website are provided voluntarily.