New gambling advertising standards from 1 April 2019 to protect under 18s

The Committees of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) have today published a regulatory statement announcing forthcoming revised guidance containing new standards that are designed to protect children and young people from exposure to gambling advertisements and, as CAP puts it, “from irresponsible gambling ads”.

Each of CAP’s regulatory statement and its revised advertising guidance (that will come into effect on 1 April 2019) can be downloaded below. They come hot on the heels of last week’s announcement by the Gambling Commission of changes to the age and identity verification requirements set out within its Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice, designed to further guard against the risk of children gambling.

The revised CAP guidance is based on (a) a review of the existing evidence of the impact of gambling advertising on under-18 year olds and (b) a consolidation of recent Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) rulings. The most recent example of the latter has been last week’s ASA ruling against Tombola (International) PLC (t/a Tombola Arcade) on which we have previously commented here.

CAP states that its revised guidance:

  • builds on existing guidance resources on targeting covering all media (including social networks and other online platforms),
  • requires that gambling ads are not placed in media for under-18s and that under-18s comprise no more than 25% of an audience in other media,
  • prohibits targeting of groups of individuals who are likely to be under 18 based on data about their online interests and browsing behaviour,
  • includes an extensive list of unacceptable types of content, including certain types of animated characters, licensed characters from movies or TV and sportspeople and celebrities that are likely to be of particular appeal to children and references to youth culture, and
  • prohibits the use in gambling advertisements of sportspersons, celebrities or other characters who are or appear to be under 25.

Those responsible for gambling advertising will be assisted by the following examples contained within the revised guidance, that are intended to bear out the principles outlined in CAP’s targeting guidance through several gambling-related scenarios:

Social media – Marketers must demonstrate to the ASA that they have used all the tools available to them on a social network platform to prevent under-18s from being targeted. This includes both ad targeting facilities provided directly by the platform and tools that restrict under- 18s’ access to marketers’ own social media content.

Parts of websites for under-18s – The ASA will assess the general audience of websites where a marketing communication appears in line with the guidance in this section above. However, marketers should take particular care to avoid placements on parts of sites dedicated to under- 18s. For example, a football club’s website might have a strongly adult audience in general, but it is inappropriate to place an advertisement in pages dedicated to younger supporters. They are considered children’s media for the purposes of the CAP Code rule on the basis of their intended audience.

Social and online gaming – Gambling-like games or games that feature elements of simulated gambling activity are often popular with children and young people. Such games should not be used to promote real- money gambling products, for instance, by offering a trial version that plays a similar role to an advergame. Where social and online games feature marketing communications for gambling games, they should not be directed at under-18s. In line with the approach outlined in this section, the ASA will assess the marketer’s efforts to understand the audience of the game and the steps taken to exclude underage groups.

Direct marketing lists – If an individual who is known to be under-18 is included in a direct marketing list, any gambling marketing communication sent to that list will breach the CAP Code. Marketers should administer lists appropriately to exclude under-18s.

Influencers – Marketers should take particular care when identifying influencers to promote their products or brands. They should identify the influencer’s likely appeal and obtain audience data (for instance, the age- breakdown of a follower or subscriber-base) to ensure that under-18s are not likely to comprise more than 25% of the audience. Where such data is not available or incomplete, marketers should exercise caution.

Affiliates – Responsibility lies with gambling operators to ensure that affiliates or other third parties acting on their behalf to publish or otherwise disseminate marketing communications comply with the Codes. Marketers should ensure affiliates comply with CAP’s gambling- specific guidance as well as its more general targeting guidance.

CAP Director, Shahriar Coupal, is quoted on the ASA website as saying:

Playing at the margins of regulatory compliance is a gamble at the best of times, but for gambling advertisers it’s particularly ill-advised, especially when the welfare of children is at stake. Our new standards respond to the latest evidence and lessons from ASA rulings, and require that greater care is taken in the placement and content of gambling ads to ensure they are not inadvertently targeted at under 18s.

To place the revised guidance in perspective, it is worth noting that, in its regulatory statement announcing the revised guidance, CAP acknowledges that:

  1. “the dedicated evidence base on gambling advertising and under-18s remains relatively limited, with few studies that have examined the direct influence of advertising on under-18s in the UK” (although we would add that the evidence base in relation to the impact of gambling advertising on children, young people and the vulnerable will be expanded within the next few months with the publication of new GambleAware research findings on that subject, the research brief for which you can read here),
  2. “the available evidence does not suggest that simple exposure to gambling ads, which are placed in media attracting a predominantly adult audience, and targeted, through their content, at adults, is likely to be harmful”, and
  3. “during a period when gambling has become more visible and gambling advertising has proliferated, the overall trend in underage participation in any gambling activity (for example, gambling with friends, fruit machines and scratch cards) has declined significantly since 2011 and adult problem gambling rates have remained stable” (and, in these respects, you can:

Also of relevance are:

  • the ASA’s recent report (on which we have previously commented here) that shows that, in recent years, children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS products) has been declining, and
  • Gambling Commission statistics showing that:
    • 59% of 11-16 year olds have seen gambling advertisements on social media
    • one in eight 11 to 16 year olds follow gambling companies on social media and, of those who have ever played online gambling-style games, 24% follow gambling companies online.

Each of the above were themes explored by David Clifton last week, when he delivered the annual Gaming Regulators European Forum (“GREF”) lecture entitled “Gambling advertising – turn down the volume or turn it off?”, the text of which you can read here.

UPDATE: David is quoted in a Gambling Compliance article entitled “UK industry warned over social media gambling ads”, reporting on the revised CAP guidance and other recent developments, in which he:

  • comments: “Clearly concern about children’s exposure to both gambling and gambling advertising is now right at the top of the Gambling Commission’s regulatory agenda” and
  • draws attention to the forthcoming findings from research commissioned by GambleAware on the effect of marketing and advertising on children, young people and vulnerable people (to which we have referred above), that is likely to influence future government and regulatory policy.