New Gambling Ad Controls May Vex UK Betting Industry

June 22, 2022
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​​​​​​​At least one gambling lawyer thinks newly tightened restrictions on UK gambling ads aimed at protecting under-18s have more potential for grief for licensees than the much-dreaded affordability checks.

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At least one gambling lawyer thinks newly tightened restrictions on UK gambling ads aimed at protecting under-18s have more potential for grief for licensees than the much-dreaded affordability checks.

Advertising of “particular appeal” to under-18s is currently barred by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), but from October 1 the ban moves to the tougher standard of “strong appeal” to the underage.

Gone will be ads featuring Lionel Messi or Harry Kane scoring a goal, to be replaced by computer-generated figures or actors wearing generic sports shirts pretending to elude the goalkeeper.

Any esport popular with under-18s is out, which would appear to bar most if not all esports.

As a revamp of the 2005 Gambling Act nears, the UK gambling industry has been fretting about the possibility of tight affordability limits, which could force operators to ask players for potentially intrusive information such as bank account access or payslips.

The Betting and Gaming Council has commissioned YouGov surveys suggesting that two-thirds of bettors would move to the black market if the government sets what the UK trade group calls “draconian” limits on the size of bets.

Gambling lawyer Peter Wilson admits affordability checks could be challenging, based on a player’s location, willingness to share details and sources of income.

But some UK licensees have already been applying such checks for some time now and tools common to other industries, such as credit scoring for loans, could be applied to gambling, he said.

Automated functions tailored to the gambling industry could also help make affordability checks “another routine part of its management of risk and harm control”, he said.

But the problem with the new advertising rules is that they seem quite subjective, Wilson said.

“A number of adverts out there are probably going to be unacceptable under the new rule,” he said.

What will help is after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) delivers the results of its first few investigations of complaints, he said.

The changes take effect in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, held in November and December, traditionally a huge betting event and spur for new registrations.

But a CAP executive said that although there is always going to be a certain amount of subjectivity in any assessment, the authority has a “reasonable degree of confidence” that the industry is prepared to boost its standards.

The industry has been working with the less-severe standards for years now, which restrict use of sports figures or celebrities under the age of 25 or who look under 25, said Andy Taylor, regulatory policy executive with the CAP.

Cuddly or “cute” animals, cartoon figures and others deemed appealing to children and teens are currently forbidden under ASA regulations.

The big new changes come in advertising football, which is deemed to have “inherent strong appeal” to youth.

“You’re not going to see top-level players in gambling ads anymore,” Taylor told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

High risks include star players at top European football clubs, as well as their managers, along with prominent cricket, tennis and rugby players.

For example, county cricket players have been deemed not appealing to British youth, but players for the national team are considered to have youth appeal and thus barred in advertising, Taylor said.

Of “moderate risk” are retired footballers who have moved into broadcasting, as well as players with lower profiles on non-top-flight teams.

Also out are using “humour, language or dress” seen as characteristic of young people, as well as “music, graphics and animation styles closely connected to youth culture”.

But entire sports are considered low risk at having an under-age audience: golf, darts, snooker, horseracing or motor sports, according to the ASA.

The exception would be, say, a snooker player who gained mass celebrity on reality television, according to Taylor.

The only places free of restrictions are media venues where under-18s can be almost entirely excluded.

Although star players will be barred from ads, gambling ads will be able to give text or audio descriptions, such as the odds on Messi being the first to score a goal for Paris Saint-Germain.

The ASA has no power to fine or refer violators for prosecution, but the Gambling Commission has generally incorporated adherence to CAP codes as a condition of licensing.

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