Important changes introduced in 6th edition of the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising

The Betting and Gaming Council has announced publication of the 6th edition of the IGRG Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (that you can download below, together with a “marked-up” version, showing shaded yellow all changes introduced in this new edition).

The new code describes itself as being “designed to further advance new requirements designed to better protect children and vulnerable consumers online”.

In its announcement, the BGC states that this new version of the code will come into effect on 1 October 2020 whereas, within the code itself, it is presently stated that the changes will come into effect on 1 September 2020. We have checked this with the BGC, who have confirmed that the correct date is 1 October, so we anticipate the wording in the Code will be amended shortly to reflect that. This is clearly important, given that LCCP Ordinary Code Provision 5.1.8 specifically provides that “Licensees should …. follow any relevant industry code of practice on advertising, notably the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising”.

[Note: a duly amended version of the Code has now been published, confirming that the changes will come into effect on 1 October 2020. That amended version is available for download below, replacing the previous version] 

This announcement comes:

  • less than a week since the BGC revealed that the “whistle to whistle” advertising restrictions have been shown to have reduced the number of betting ads seen by children, but
  • less happily, immediately after an Advertising Standards Authority finding that four gambling operators had breached its age-restricted advertising rules.

The BGC’s announcement reads as follows:

Tough new measures aimed at further preventing under-18s from seeing gambling adverts online have been unveiled by the Betting and Gaming Council.

The standards body, which represents the regulated betting industry excluding the National Lottery, unveiled the crackdown as it published the Sixth Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising.

In future, BGC members must ensure that all sponsored or paid for social media adverts must be targeted at consumers aged 25 and over unless the website can prove its adverts can be precisely targeted at over 18s.

The new code also includes a requirement that gambling ads appearing on search engines must make clear that they are for those aged 18 and over. In addition, the adverts themselves must also include safer gambling messages.

YouTube users will also have to use age-verified accounts before they can view gambling ads, guaranteeing that they cannot be seen by under-18s.

And BGC members will have to post frequent responsible gambling messages on their Twitter accounts.

The new code, which will come into force on 1 October, is the latest example of the BGC’s determination to drive up standards within the betting and gaming industry.

Other measures include the whistle to whistle ban on TV gambling adverts, a requirement for 20 per cent of all TV and radio ads to be safer gambling messaging, cooling off periods on gaming machines, encouraging deposit limits, new ID and age verification checks and massively increasing funding for research, education and treatment.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, said:

“As the new standards body for the regulated sector, we are committed to driving up standards within the betting and gaming industry.

We have made excellent progress in recent times and the Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising is updated as technology evolves. The latest edition is further evidence of our determination to continue to ensure that standards are rising and are as high as they can possibly be.

BGC members have a zero tolerance attitude to under-18s betting, and from requirements for safer gambling messages to restrictions on YouTube advertising, this new code shows how seriously the BGC, who represent regulated betting but not the National Lottery, take our responsibilities.

At the same time, we urge the Government to work with us to crack down on black market operators who have no interest in safer gambling or protecting their customers and do not work to the same responsible standards as BGC members.

It is vital that the big internet platforms honour their responsibilities to protect people online and we hope the Government will use its forthcoming Online Harms Bill to that effect. The Review of the Gambling Act will also provide further opportunities to improve standards and we look forward to working with the Government on this”.

The principal new requirements of the Industry Code are set out below:

Social media marketing

  • A requirement that sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted at consumers aged 25+. This measure adds an additional level of assurance around the age of consumers where operators do not hold any first party data about the consumers targeted, (i.e. where operators are wholly reliant on self-certified third party data, which may not always be correct.) This requirement relates solely to prospecting campaigns where the targeted audience is not already verified through the operators own age verification processes. Given improvements in identification technology if a social media platform can verifiably prove that its age gating systems can prevent under 18s from accessing the gambling advertising content, then the Betting and Gaming Council, on the recommendation of operators and in consultation with other third parties, may consider whether to reduce the age filter to 18+.
  • A requirement that organic YouTube content produced by an operator and operators’ own YouTube channels must be age-restricted to 18+ to ensure users log in to age-verified accounts in order to view content.
  • A requirement that operators should undertake reasonable endeavours to exclude customers with an active self-exclusion or cool-off period and those who the operator has defined using its own method of assessment as a ‘higher risk’ customer, from its paid-for social media campaigns.
  • A requirement that operators must use their own social media pages to post frequent safer gambling related information. It is expected that, in determining sufficient frequency, operators should take into account how active their own social media accounts are and act accordingly.
  • In the case of lotteries, the age gating required would be 16+ rather than 18+.

Promoting consumer awareness

  • There are a number of steps that consumers can take in order to minimise their exposure to gambling advertising across social media platforms. However, this information may not always be easily accessible in a collated format. This Sixth edition of the Code recognises that operators are well placed to provide this information to their customers. As such, this Sixth edition includes:
    • A requirement that each operator provides information on how to limit exposure to gambling advertising across social media platforms. It is for each operator to decide where best to situate this information or the industry may adopt a common landing page for this information, available to operators via a link from their web site. However, the expectation is that it should be easily accessible and sufficiently prominent. This list of instructions will cover the largest social media platforms.

Search activity

  • This Sixth edition expands the scope of the IGRG Code to cover search advertising through the inclusion of a requirement that any search advertisements must clearly contain 18+ messaging in the ad copy, along with safer gambling messaging within the core ad format. In the case of lotteries, comparable 16+ messaging should appear.
  • Online search activity is based on ‘keywords’ which link to consumer’s search queries. Search engines offer the ability to advertise against queries via keywords. In order to introduce an enhanced level of consumer protection, the industry will introduce a shared blacklist of negative keywords against which no gambling advertising should be served. This blacklist will include keywords which indicate vulnerability and keywords which relate to children amongst others. The blacklist will be collated by the Betting & Gaming Council. The industry keyword blacklist will be updated on a regular basis to ensure the list remains a robust control over the passage of time.
  • This Sixth edition of the Code includes;
    • A requirement that operators incorporate the industry keyword blacklist into all relevant campaigns where applicable.
    • A requirement that operators will ensure any revised blacklist is incorporated into relevant campaigns in a timely fashion.
  • For the avoidance of doubt, the requirements above shall also apply to any affiliate marketing carried out on behalf of an operator. The industry-wide list will also be submitted to online advertising platforms for incorporation into their current systems.

Affiliate activity

  • The Gambling Commission are clear that operators will be held responsible for any marketing carried out by their affiliates. As such, operators are expected to ensure that all relevant Code requirements are also followed by their affiliate marketers. This Sixth edition of the Code seeks to build on this requirement to establish more robust controls. As such, this revision includes:
    • A requirement for all affiliates to be subject to due diligence and PEPS/sanctions checks. KYC checks should also be conducted wherever relevant.
    • A requirement for affiliates to comply with all relevant regulatory and legislative requirements including CAP’s guidance on ensuring advertisements are obviously identifiable as such. In order to promote consistency, all relevant affiliate ads should be clearly and prominently marked ‘#ad’.
    • A requirement for relevant affiliates to share safer gambling related content on a regular basis, with frequency to be pre-determined with each individual operator with whom that affiliate has an agreement.
  • Compliance with the above is expected to be managed by way of a contractual obligation to comply with a Code of Conduct for the affiliate party. Operators are expected to terminate relationships with affiliates who cannot/do not comply, preferably on a one strike and you’re out rule.

UPDATE: The BGC has subsequently produced a ‘Version 2’ of the6th edition of the IGRG Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Gambling (that you can download below).