Gambling ads likely to appeal more strongly to under-18s hit the headlines again

Rulings delivered today by the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) have issued yet another warning against advertisements that promote gambling products that may appeal to minors. Both rulings can be downloaded below.

This follows:

  • last October’s unprecedented joint action between the ASA, the Gambling Commission, the Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) and the Remote Gambling Association who joined forces to send a letter to holders of operating licences granted by the Gambling Commission, advising them to amend or remove immediately any advertisements on their websites or in third party media that were:
    • likely to appeal particularly to people aged 17 or younger and
    • generally available to view (“freely accessible”),
  • subsequent ASA/CAP guidance to gambling operators on what constitutes a gambling advertisement that has particular appeal to under 18 year olds (as reported by us here) and
  • further warnings by the ASA and CAP to gambling operators issued in November 2017

The complaints that resulted in these latest ASA rulings were made by Campaign for Fairer Gambling in relation to the graphical content of games with fairytale themes advertised on the ProgressPlay-powered m88.com site and TGP Europe Limited’s Letou.co.uk and Fun88.co.uk sites. It raised the question whether they were likely to be of particular appeal to children.

Progress Play contended that:

  • the advertised games were available to play in demo mode but, in response to the complaint a permanent change has been made so that they are now only accessible after members have logged into their account,
  • they modified the games’ graphics to exclude all images of fairies and any other unsuitable character,
  • the games were produced by a third-party software company and appeared on other websites run by different gambling operators,
  • it was their policy that prior to launching any game on their website, the game and its graphics were thoroughly reviewed in order to ensure that there was nothing within it that was likely to have particular appeal to children, with the consequence that images that were considered to be problematic (including any borderline graphics) were altered or removed altogether,
  • if it was not possible to amend or remove such graphics, m88.com would not launch the game on its website,
  • addressing all responsible gambling issues with their business partners was an essential and substantial part of their commercial agreement, and included ensuring that ads for their games would not have particular appeal to children, and any breach of that policy authorised m88.com to terminate the agreement with their business partners, and
  • they believed that they did not feature any content that was likely to be of particular appeal to children.

TGP Europe contended that:

  • the advertised games had been removed before they received details of the complaint,
  • the games were produced by a third-party software company and appeared on other websites run by different gambling operators,
  • they were fully aware of the ASA’s requirements when it came to marketing gambling products and, having reviewed their website, they had removed a number of games in 2017,
  • they placed demo games behind registration in order to prevent anyone under 18 years of age playing for free (with the consequence that visitors to the websites could no longer play in demo mode for any of the games, unless they logged into their account), this being a permanent change TGP Europe had made to both of their websites, and
  • assessing whether a gambling ad had particular appeal to under-18s was highly subjective.

It is instructive to conduct the following examination of the ASA’s logic in order to establish why it reached the conclusions it did.

Progress Play

In its ruling, the ASA upheld the complaint in respect of all three advertisements seen on unrestricted parts of the www.m88.com website on 25 January 2018 promoting three different games called:

  1. “Fairytale Legends Red Riding Hood” showing an animated image of a wolf and a fairy that was based on the children’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood (that the ASA considered to be “highly popular amongst young children”); the ASA also considered fairies to be highly popular with young children, particularly young girls. It noted that the wolf was heavily stylised with exaggerated facial features and included a long muzzle, big eyes and a prominent nose, considering that such a physical appearance of the wolf resembled similar characters from films/TV programmes aimed at under-18s, particularly children. Accordingly, because the game was advertised as being based on a popular children’s fairy tale story (and along with the image of the fairy and wolf), the ASA concluded that the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to children.
  2. “Fairytale Legends Hansel and Gretel” featuring the name of the game in an animated image with tree branches, a moonlit forest with gameplay stars and gambling coins (considered by the ASA to be a general image to represent the story of how Hansel and Gretel were held captive in the woods without any specific content that would be of particular appeal to children). However, the game was based on the children’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, which the ASA considered to be “highly popular amongst young children” and accordingly it concluded that the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to children.
  3. “Fairies Forest” showing an animated image of a fairy in a forest with brightly coloured flowers around the name of the game, that “indicated that the game was based on a fairy theme”. The ASA considered that fairies were highly popular amongst young children, particularly girls and therefore it concluded that the ad was likely to be of particular appeal to under-18 year olds.

TGP Europe

In its ruling, the ASA upheld the complaint in respect of advertisements seen on the www.fun88.co.uk and www.letou.co.uk websites in January 2018 for six games, but ruled that advertisements for 2 other games were not in breach of the CAP Code.

Those found to be in breach (because they were likely to appeal more strongly to under-18s than to over-18s) were ads for games called:

  1. “Feathered Frenzy Slot” featuring an animated image of two birds that were highly stylised with exaggerated features, including brightly coloured, disproportioned podgy bodies, large eyes and beaks; the ASA considered that this depicted the birds in a cuddly and cute manner, which also resembled characters from films/TV programmes that were targeted at under-18s, particularly children.
  2. “Dragon’s Myth” featuring an animated image of a young looking girl; the dragon was animated in an intricate manner and drawn in lightly coloured tones, which the ASA considered would not have particular appeal to under-18s, but the girl was wearing an outfit similar to a school uniform and had pigtail plaits, which the ASA considered to be a reflection of youth culture and to reinforce her young appearance. The ASA also noted that the image of the young girl was highly stylised with big eyes and face being disproportionately bigger than her thin neck, considering that her physical appearance resembled animated characters from films/TV programmes that were targeted at under-18s, particularly young children.
  3. “Faeries Fortune” featuring an animated image of a pixie; the ASA considered that although “Faeries” had been spelt in a different manner, it was clear that the game was being advertised as having a fairy theme to it; notwithstanding that the fairy appeared to be adult in nature, particularly given that she was showing a degree of cleavage, the ASA considered that fairies were highly popular amongst young children, particularly girls.
  4. “Castle Builder” featuring an animated image of a castle, a princess and three men: the ASA noted that the image was very colourful and that all four characters’ body shapes and facial features were highly disproportioned and stylised in a manner that it considered resembled characters from films that were targeted at under-18s, particularly young children.It also noted that one of the characters appeared to be a princess wearing a gown and crown, looking out from her tower in admiration towards a man who appeared to be singing to her with a gittern on his back, which it considered was an obvious depiction of a scene from a popular children’s fairy tale story.
  5. “Robyn” featuring an animated image of a young looking girl; the ASA noted that her facial features and body shape were highly stylised and disproportionate (in that her head was much larger than her body), she had an exceedingly thin neck, large eyes and a very small nose with wavy long blonde hair. The ASA considered that her physical depiction resembled characters from “princess” themed films targeted at under-18s, particularly young children.
  6. “Santa Paws” featuring an animated image of a polar bear wearing a Santa hat, a cub polar bear, two penguins and a rabbit; the ASA noted that the rabbit, cub bear and penguins had large eyes and, as was also the case with the polar bear, a loving smile, which it considered depicted them in an innocent, cute and cuddly – almost child-like – manner. It considered that whilst Santa Claus would have appeal to both children and adults, it was crucial that any such association with the fictional character in a gambling ad did not have particular appeal to under-18s, and in that latter respect it noted that the ad made specific reference to “Santa Paws”, which it considered was “childish”.

Those TGP Europe ads found not to be in breach (because they were unlikely to appeal more strongly to under-18s than to over-18s) were for the following games:

  1. “Secret Santa Online Slot” was written in gold and appeared within an animated image of a fireplace with Christmas decorations; the ASA considered that such a generic image of a Christmas environment “did not associate/reflect Santa Claus with today’s youth culture” and it also considered that the concept of secret Santa was much more associated with adults than under-18s.
  2. “Santa’s Wild Ride” featured an animated image of what appeared to resemble a badge in the shape of a shield, that was coloured in a dark red tone with a silver outline; the name of the game was written on the badge in a light yellow/golden colour with the word “WILD” being given more prominence. The ASA considered that this was a standard image using a mild colour scheme that did not feature any graphics that would be of particular interest in today’s youth culture.

Footnote

Readers with particular concerns arising from the above are invited to contact us for detailed advice but, in the meantime, they might find it helpful to read David Clifton’s SBC News article entitled “What to do if you received that letter …..” that was published shortly after the above-mentioned joint letter was sent to holders of operating licences granted by the Gambling Commission.