National Strategic Assessment 2020
What are the issues? - Advertising
Advertising is another area that is constantly evolving. Traditional advertising methods such as print, broadcasting, and sponsorship are being supplemented by digital marketing which can be far more personalised and direct than for example TV or radio campaigns. While the growth of digital marketing presents some risks it also presents opportunities – not available in traditional media – for targeting away from vulnerable audiences, including children and young people. For example, social media platforms can restrict what adverts are served to users based on age, preferences, or explicit requests.
We directed licensees to make progress on the use of ad-tech to proactively target online marketing for gambling away from children, young people and those who are vulnerable to harms. We will monitor the effectiveness of the updated version of the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising which came into effect on 1 October 2020.
During the period 2015-19, the number of licensed brands lawfully permitted to be marketed increased from 2,714 to 4,968, an 83% increase. Ad volume and spend increases do not necessarily equate to increased ad exposure. There are more opportunities to advertise than ever before (hundreds of TV channels, thousands of websites, social media platforms etc) meaning advertising is spread out across a number of diverse media channels.
Our tracker data 30 shows that overall exposure to gambling advertising has remained stable since 2016. The ASA’s latest report 31 on TV ad exposure found that children saw, on average, 2.2 and 2.7 gambling ads on TV per week in 2008 and 2009, respectively; in 2019, children saw a weekly average of 2.5 gambling ads on TV. Children’s exposure to gambling ads on TV peaked in 2013 (seeing, on average, 4.4 gambling ads on TV per week) and has since declined slowly. Ads for bingo, lottery and scratchcards continue to make up most gambling ads that children see on TV.
Studies looking at the impact of advertising on adult gambling behaviours have indicated that exposure to advertising may be linked to a greater likelihood to gamble. However, the existing evidence base does not demonstrate a causal link between exposure to gambling advertising which complies with the current rules and problem gambling at a population level.
The Ipsos MORI research reached the following key conclusions:
There are reasonable grounds for concern about the impact of marketing and advertising, and there is a link between gambling advertising and the attitudes, current and likely future behaviours of children, young people and vulnerable adults. However, the research was not able tofind a causal link between exposure to gambling advertising and problem gambling in later life 32.
This is not to say that gambling cannot be enjoyed recreationally at legal age; however, children, young people and vulnerable adults have already been identified as being more likely to experience gambling disorder or be vulnerable to gambling related harms.
Changes to advertising practices should be an intrinsic part of a wider policy initiative that also considers the influence of peers and family members in exposure to gambling brands and practices, as the research shows that these factors correlate more closely with current gambling behaviour than exposure to or engagement with advertising.
The report suggests applying the precautionary principle and that action would be warranted in:
- Reducing exposure to gambling advertising
- Reducing the appeal of gambling advertising
- Improving customer protection messaging within advertising
- Improving wider education initiatives
- Improving understanding through further research
We have supported the ASA’s recent proposals to further restrict the content of gambling ads to limit their potential to appeal to, and adversely affect, u18s and vulnerable adults. We will continue to work closely with the ASA to enforce the gambling advertising rules.
Gambling advertising will continue to be scrutinised as part of the public policy debate on gambling. Aside from the debate on the role of gambling advertising and its effects, there is scope for licensees to continue to improve standards on how advertising is currently conducted.
We published new guidance to further protect consumers during the COVID-19 lockdown, which made clear that licensees must cease to offer bonuses or promotions to those displaying markers of harm. We are proposing, as part of the planned customer interaction consultation, to make this a permanent requirement.
We estimate there are many thousands of marketing affiliates in operation in the gambling industry. Licensees must ensure that any affiliate acting on their behalf is doing so in full compliance with the rules around gambling content and placement and in a manner, which does not undermine the licensing objectives.
Licensees must also ensure they or affiliates are not placing adverts on illegal copyright infringing websites. Gambling ads are often placed on pirate publishers due to poor algorithmic decision-making that associates pirate sports streaming with legitimate sports websites. The problem arises when technology fails to filter out risky publishers like pirate streaming websites. Until brands have complete transparency over their advertising supply chains, this issue will continue.
Our work with the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has resulted in a dramatic decline in gambling advertising on pirate websites. Having previously been identified as the top sector for such adverts, White Bullet data 33 from April 2020 showed gambling now represents less than 2% of adverts. Licensees must build on these positive developments by maintaining proactive control over all aspects of their advertising activity.
Foreign gambling companies are entering into advertising arrangements with British licensees to support sponsorship deals which seek to benefit from the global exposure of high-profile sports events such as the English Premier League. These companies often have little commercial interest in offering gambling in Great Britain but do want to use the Premier League to advertise their products in other jurisdictions where the Premier League is popular.
Such ‘white label’ arrangements have in some cases been found to present risks to the licensing objectives. These arrangements cannot be used to circumvent the robust licensing controls in place in Great Britain. Licensees must conduct appropriate due diligence checks on any prospective partners before entering a business relationship. Responsibility for compliance will always sit with the licence holder so they must satisfy themselves that appropriate safeguarding measures and controls are in place before committing to contractual obligations.
In May 2020 FSB Technology Limited was required to change its operation following the imposition of additional licence conditions. FSB had to pay £600,000 for advertising, money laundering and social responsibility failings.
FSB’s business model included contracting provisions of its licensed activities to third parties. This arrangement, often referred to as a ‘white label’, places responsibility on the licensee to ensure that its third-party partners keep gambling fair, safe and crime-free.
An investigation found FSB did not have sufficient oversight of third-party websites or effective policies and procedures in place between January 2017 and August 2019 resulting in:
- ineffective customer interactions with, and source of funds checks on, a customer who displayed indicators of problem gambling and spent £282,000 over an 18-month period
- sending a marketing email to 2,324 customers who had previously self-excluded
- a VIP team manager acting without adequate oversight and not receiving sufficient AML training
- placement of an inappropriate banner advertisement containing cartoon nudity on a Great Britain facing website which was providing unauthorised access to copyrighted content.
31 Gambling Commission online tracker survey
32 Longitudinal research is required to assess this – last year we commissioned a scoping study to determine the best methodology for a longitudinal study. This has been identified as a priority under the National Strategy for Reducing Gambling Harms.
What are the issues? Anonymity within premises-based gambling Next section