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New restrictions on gambling advertisements are on the horizon

The advertising regulator in Great Britain has announced new standards for gambling advertisements after a broad government consultation on the health risks associated with the gambling industry. The new standards will restrict adverts that create what the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) consider to convey an “inappropriate sense of urgency” – such as those that include phrases like Bet Now! to push offers during live events and betting in play.

They will also endeavour to curb what they have called the “trivialisation of gambling”, for example by encouraging repetitive play. One of the other areas to come under the microscope is advertising which gives what the regulator deems to be an irresponsible perception of the risks involved in gambling.

In this week’s announcement, the CAP said the new measures will aim to provide greater detail on problem gambling behaviours that should not be portrayed – even indirectly – in advertising, and will strive to prevent “undue emphasis on money motives for gambling”.

These changes will come into effect on 2 April and will be taken into account when the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) – the regulator that enforces the code – makes decisions on what adverts are and are not appropriate to broadcast and display.

The CAP said on Wednesday that, whilst problem gambling rates have generally remained relatively stable since the Gambling Act of 2005 came into force, there is evidence that suggests that certain claims, imagery or approaches portrayed in advertising might unduly influence people to gamble irresponsibly.

“We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eye-catching free bet and bonus offers,” said Shahriar Coupal, the CAP director.

“Our new guidance takes account of the best available evidence to strengthen the protections already in place, ensuring that gambling is presented responsibly, minimising the potential for harm,” he added.

The advertising industry has welcomed the news. “The new guidelines on responsibility and problem gambling are an essential and welcome addition to the UK advertising codes for gambling,” said Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association.

“Our industry recognises the gambling sector is one which requires close, consistent and effective monitoring by our own regulatory bodies, as well as concerted effort through public education campaigns that use the ability of advertising to affect positive social change.”

The majority of complaints that the ASA receives about gambling advertisements are about the requirement for consumers to make a deposit to access their “free bets/bonus”, or the number of times they must then wager their “free bet” and deposit money before they are allowed to withdraw any winnings.

The new guidelines will also make it clear that “money back” offers must be in cash and not bonuses, that “risk free” offers must incur no loss to the consumer and that, when it comes to “matched bets”, any stake limitation should be treated as a significant condition and stated upfront.

Responding to this CAP announcement on tougher standards for gambling advertising, Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Councils have previously called for greater restrictions on gambling advertising and we are pleased to see the steps taken by the Committees of Advertising Practice to address this. Urgent or time limited offers encouraging people to bet immediately, and misleading descriptions such as ‘risk free’, can be particularly harmful for problem gamblers, so it’s right that they should be stopped. However, there must still be consideration of whether more curbs are needed alongside this.

“The LGA has been working closely with its members to help strengthen local gambling regulation, and it’s vital that this isn’t undermined by misleading or excessive levels of gambling advertising.

“We need to ensure that people, and particularly our children and young people, are kept safe and protected from the problems gambling can cause. Problem gambling is a major concern for councils which can cause greater personal harm. It can lead to spiralling debt, deteriorating mental health and wellbeing, and a toll on society – and taxpayers – through crime and disorder, family breakdown and homelessness.”

The rules are the first of a number of activities planned for 2018 in an effort to raise public awareness of the risks associated with gambling. The CAP said that later in the year it would publish further guidance specifically focusing on the protection of children and young people.

The timing of the announcement came as GVC, the online gambling firm behind Foxy Bingo, was fined £350,000 for “repeatedly misleading consumers” with offers of free bonuses, on the same day that regulators announced a crackdown on gambling adverts.

In October last year, regulators including the Gambling Commission, the ASA, the CAP and the Remote Gambling Association wrote to 450 operators of gambling sites urging them to remove what they called “unacceptable” adverts likely to appeal to children.

It will be interesting to see how these new powers are used and what impact they will have on the gambling sector. It will also be informative to see if there will be a direct result in the reduction of problem gambling. There will surely be an impact on “bet in play” adverts. This could be the end of Ray Winstone’s floating head telling us to bet NOW!