Advertising Standards & Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) In Betting & Gaming

ASAIf you believe that a company is not living up to the rules and regulations of its gambling licence then you can contact the United Kingdom Gambling Commission and let them know as much. If you feel that you have a dispute with your bookmaker or betting business of choice then you can speak to the Independent Betting Adjudication Service and see if they’ll take up your cause and mediate the situation.

Those aren’t the only bodies that can have a say in the world of gambling, however, with both the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committees of Advertising Practice also weighing in on what betting and gambling companies can and can’t say in their adverts. If you see an advert that you think is beyond the pale, therefore, then you can get in touch with one of those bodies to make your feelings known, but what exactly do they do?

The ASA & CAP

cap codeThe Advertising Standards Authority, which is the independent regulator of advertising across all forms of media in the United Kingdom, is responsible for upholding the Advertising Codes that are created by the Committees of Advertising Practice. In other words, the CAP creates the codes and rules that adverts must abide by and it is the job of the ASA to ensure that companies follow these rules.

The Committee of Advertising Practice is, essentially, a sister organisation to the Advertising Standards Authority. Together, they are committed to ensuring that the industry is regulated in a manner that is transparent, as well as dishing out punishments and fines that are proportionate. Any moves made by the ASA or CAP must be targeted and use an evidence base for decisions, as well as ensuring that they are consistent.

The Advertising Standards Authority has a mission that will lead to every advert shown in the United Kingdom being a responsible advert. Obviously what this entails differs from industry to industry, but they will respond to concerns and complaints raised to them by both consumers and businesses, banning ads that they consider to be misleading, harmful or both. They also monitor adds, rather than just waiting for complaints to come in.

Using 2020 as an example, the ASA looked into 36,342 complaints from 22,823 adverts. On the back of their work, 36,491 adverts were either removed altogether or else changed slightly to make sure that they aligned with the rules and regulations set out by the Committee of Advertising Practice. That was an increase of 346% when compared to 2019, with online cases making up 61% of the workload.

The 2020 Changes For Gambling Companies

new rules old rules crossed outTowards the end of 2020, the Advertising Standards Authority worked in conjunction with the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice in order to create a new set of rules and regulations that were aimed at further reducing underage exposure to gambling adverts. They then launched a consultation in order to seek input from ordinary people about whether what they were offering went far enough.

The first change offered by the ASA was that adverts should be banned from having a ‘strong appeal’ to anyone under the age of 18. That was a change from the ‘particular appeal’ wording that was in place before. Shifting it to ‘strong appeal’ brought gambling adverts in line with adverts for other products aimed at adults, such as alcohol. The change also shifted the level of appeal that would be considered.

The wording of ‘particular appeal’ meant that the appeal would have to be compared to the likely appeal of an advert to adults, whereas ‘strong appeal’ means that it only considers whether or not an advert will appeal to children. The only exception to this comes when adverts feature ‘the subject of the licensed gambling activity’. To put it another way, gambling adverts featuring football would be find during live matches, even though there’s a ‘strong appeal’ to younger viewers.

That being said, the bodies did point out that advertising bodies should exercise ‘caution’ with certain sports. The likes of extreme sports or skateboarding, for example, would naturally appeal to children and therefore should be avoided where possible. The rule also doesn’t need to be applied in situations where those under the age of 18 are basically excluded from the audience because of age targeting.

No Appealing To Minors

Responsible Gamling 18Another part of the rules brought in in 2020 stated that gambling adverts were not allowed to ‘feature a person or character whose example is likely to be followed by those aged under 18 years or who has a strong appeal to those aged under 18’. The idea behind this was to discourage firms from using celebrities with a strong underage fanbase for their adverts, as well as to avoid themes that would appeal to youth culture.

The specific examples laid out by the ASA included:

  • Disregard for authority or social norms
  • Teenage rebelliousness
  • Mocking or outwitting authority
  • Youthful fashion
  • Dancing
  • Young language

Obviously that list is far from exhaustive, but it gives a good sense of the sort of things that advertisers would need to avoid where possible. The desire to stop adverts from appealing to young people is clear, with the ASA constantly looking for new ways to ensure that gambling companies don’t appeal to those under the age of 18 in any way, shape or form both in terms of the products offered and in the way they’re advertised.

It also isn’t just children that must not be appealed to. The changes in rules also worked towards reducing the likelihood of problem gamblers seeing messages that are irresponsible in nature. This includes a ban on any implication that a money back offer would offer some sense of financial security. It’s not ok for vulnerable people to think that it will be already if they gamble with certain offers in place.

Making Things Realistic

future betsOne of the chief rules introduced in 2020 was aimed at ensuring that adverts would be realistic. They were not allowed to suggest that complex bets that require a level of skill or intelligence are actually easy to place, for example. Players couldn’t be given the impression that they had a level of control over the outcome of a bet that wouldn’t actually exist when playing the game in question in real life.

On top of that, operators are banned from using light-heartedness or humour to downplay the risks that are inherently involved in gambling. Gambling can’t be presented as being a way of being part of a community that is based on skill, nor can they include an unrealistic portrayal of a winner. This means that players can’t be portrayed as winning at the first time of playing a game or winning easily, both of which are unrealistic.

Why The Changes?

age verificationThe decision to make these changes was based on research carried out by GambleAware between May and September of 2019. Led by Ipsos MORI and the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, the report discovered that regular exposure to gambling promotions would gradually change both the perceptions and associations of gambling in young people. That was worrying, given 94% of 11-24-year-olds had been exposed to gambling messages in the month prior.

Young and vulnerable people were shown parts of logos of gambling companies and were able to correctly identify the associated company in eight out of ten cases. It was clear form the research that young people were being exposed to far too much gambling advertising, which GambleAware felt was the responsibility of the Advertising Standards Authority to clamp down on as much as possible.

The report made the point that early exposure to gambling was a ‘key factor’ in deciding whether or not a young person would be likely to engage in gambling in the future. Those with a close friend or a carer that gambled would be six times more likely to already engage in gambling themselves. Television was the chief culprit for young people being exposed to gambling, with 85% of those aged 11-24 saying they’d seen an advert on tv.

Social media was also flagged up as being a major issue, with 66% of those responding to the survey admitting that the’d seen a gambling promotion advertised on a social channel. The likes of video adverts on YouTube or adverts on Facebook feeds were the most common forms of adverts for gambling companies seen by those aged between 11 and 24. 417 gambling-related accounts sent 888,000 tweets during a nine-month period.

The work done by Ipsos MORI was then put forward with a number of recommendations that were aimed at helping to protect children and vulnerable people. It was these suggestions that the ASA took on board when looking at what changes could be made to the body’s own decisions around gambling adverts. GambleAware’s Chief Executive Marc Etches summed it up by saying:

“Gambling is an adult activity, but this new research conclusively shows that it has become part of everyday life for children and young people. The exposure to gambling on social media suggests there is a clear need for social media companies to improve age screening tools and for gambling companies to make full use of existing ones, to help protect children from potential harmful exposure to gambling. We must always be mindful that gambling is a public health issue and it can have serious implications for people’s mental health.”

Will It Make A Difference?

make a differenceThe main question that has to be asked is whether or not the changes made by the Advertising Standards Authority will make any real difference. Whilst it will clearly limit the number of gambling adverts seen by young children and the manner of those adverts when they do see them, is gambling now far too prevalent for the alterations to make any real difference, given how many young people will watch live football and likes?

Adverts for gambling products will all have a phrase such as ‘terms & conditions apply’, ‘Be GambleAware’ and so on bolted on to them, but do they not come under the same bracket as most such warnings, which are often just ignored by the user? There’s an argument that people will be more informed, but if young people are prone to gamble then it’s unlikely that not using young people in adverts will stop them from doing so.

There’s certainly an argument that it will make a difference, as espoused by Steve Ginnis, the Research Director at Ipsos MORI, who said, “The evidence captured in this research suggests that there is value in taking further action to reduce exposure and appeal of gambling advertising, which in turn is likely to help mitigate against the plausible risk of gambling-related harms among children, young people and vulnerable adults.”

It’s difficult to be completely sold by the idea that limiting exposure to gambling adverts will make a huge amount of difference, however. Young people are watching football teams with betting companies plastered on the front of their shirts, seeing gambling machines when they visit a motorway service station or an airport and being bombarded with adverts by gambling companies when they use social media, so are we really expected to believe that these changes will alter their relationship with it as an activity?

Ultimately, of course, you have to start somewhere. Perhaps on that front this is a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t offer enough in terms of where to go next. Apart from an all-out ban on gambling advertising, which would never pass muster, it’s difficult to see a world in which young people won’t be exposed to gambling in some form or another moving forwards, so what’s the alternative?

Perhaps, instead of asking the ASA and CAP to rule create rules aimed at stopping young people from being attracted to gambling, we should be looking to educate about the ills of it as an activity. There is only so much that can be done by rules and regulations, so it’s not a shock to suggest that teaching young people of the danger of betting and gambling might be the best way to stop them from engaging with it in the first place.