Protecting children from irresponsible advertising: tougher rules for gambling operators

As part of the ASA's continued focus on limiting children’s exposure to age-restricted ads, new standards have been announced for gambling advertising that will take effect from next month.

28 March 2019

Gambling advertising and the impact on under-18s 

The introduction of new standards for gambling advertising follows a review of the existing evidence of the impact on under-18s and a consolidation of recent Advertising Standards Authority’s ('ASA') rulings.

The market has developed significantly in recent years, with a huge growth in digital gambling platforms, which are readily accessible on smartphones and other internet-connected devices. Social media has also opened up new marketing channels through which operators can engage directly with consumers.

Increased visibility and accessibility mean targeted restrictions are still required to address concerns around irresponsible advertising to children (under-16s) and young people (16 and 17), and the ASA’s revised guidance is a response to such concerns. 

Revised guidance on gambling advertising 

The ASA’s view is that the existing advertising rules on gambling ads are proportionate and effective in mitigating the potential harms. As such, the new standards do not change the rules but rather build on the existing rules by providing more detail on approaches that are unlikely to be acceptable in marketing communications. 

Under the CAP Code and BCAP Code, marketing communications for gambling must not 'be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.' Further, that gambling ads must not be 'directed at those aged below 18 years … through the selection of media or context in which they appear'

The new standards, which will apply from 1 April 2019: 

  • requires that gambling ads should not be placed in media for under-18s
  • requires that gambling ads should not appear in other media (not directed at under-18s) but where children or young people make a significant proportion – more than 25 per cent - of the audience
  • prohibits the targeting of groups of individuals who are likely to be under 18 based on data about their online interests and browsing behaviour
  • identifies types of content that would be unacceptable, including certain types of animated characters, licensed characters from films or TV, sportspeople and celebrities on the basis that such are likely to be of particular appeal to children
  • prohibits the use of sportspeople, celebrities and other characters in gambling ads where they are or appear to be under 25.

The guidance applies to marketing communications appearing in all media, including online channels such as social media. 

Practical guidance for compliance 

The new standards provide assistance by setting out practical examples of what gambling operators should do (or not do) in order to target ads away from under-18s. This includes: 

Do: 

  • Use all tools available on social media or other online platforms to prevent targeting online ads at under-18s
  • Where engaging influencers to promote products and brands, consider the influencer’s likely appeal and obtain audience data to ensure that under-18s are not likely to comprise more than 25 per cent of the audience
  • Administer direct marketing lists appropriately to exclude under-18s. Any gambling marketing communication sent to a list that includes an individual known to be under-18 will breach the CAP Code
  • Ensure that any affiliates or third parties used to disseminate marketing communications comply with the revised guidance and CAP/BCAP Codes. The ASA make clear that this responsibility lies with the gambling operators. 

Don’t: 

  • Place ads on parts of websites with particular appeal for under-18s. The ASA gives the example of a football website, which might have an over-18s audience in general but there could be parts of the website dedicated to young supporters
  • Use gambling-like games, which are often popular with children, to promote real-money gambling products. If social and online games do feature marketing communications for real-money gambling games, they should not be directed at under-18s. 

What does this mean for gambling operators (and advertisers)? 

It is clear that the ASA are looking ever more closely at social media and other online platforms in this space. Advertisers are now expected to use both audience targeting facilities excluding under-18s and tools that restrict under-18s access to the advertisers’ own social media content. To that end, it will be important for gambling operators (and advertisers) to know what ad-tech is available on applicable platforms – if there are tools to exclude under-18s, these should be used.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the advertisers to provide robust evidence to satisfy the ASA that they have been diligent in forecasting the likely audience for a marketing communication and complied with CAP/BCAP Codes. Advertisers need to take steps to ensure that they are confident of the likely target audience composition. Where this is not the case, they should exercise caution. 

Non-compliance with the CAP/BCAP Codes carries the risk of adverse publicity, reputational damage and sanctions. In addition, gambling operators who breach the CAP/BCAP Codes could now be subject to the Gambling Commission’s regulatory powers, which includes financial penalties, restrictions on licences and revocation of licences.

How can Burges Salmon help? 

For further information, please contact Helen Scott-Lawler and Amanda Leiu.

This article is part of a series, which addresses the key issues and important considerations for businesses when advertising which we are releasing following the ASA’s release of a five-year strategy which set out a new focus on reinforcing regulations around online advertising. This is the third article in the series; the next will cover new restrictions proposed for HFSS advertising.

Key contact

Helen Scott-Lawler

Helen Scott-Lawler Partner

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