Unprecedented joint action to prevent gambling ads appealing to children

The Gambling Commission, the Committee of Advertising Practice, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Remote Gambling Association  have 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 are:

  • likely to appeal particularly to people aged 17 or younger and
  • generally available to view (“freely accessible”).

The letter (that can be downloaded below) goes on to state that: “this relates particularly to freely accessible ads for play-for-free and play-for-money games and includes all graphics and images displayed on a website or in third party media”.

We are already advising clients on what this means in practical terms, including what is likely to be deemed an ad that appeals particularly to under 18 year olds. Other operators affected by the letter are invited to contact us for guidance on what they should be doing now.

Issues for consideration, based on past ASA rulings, include the following:

  • the use of cartoons or cartoon-like imagery has the potential to appeal to under-18s, and it is therefore important that they are used carefully in ads for gambling products,
  • the inclusion of a popular comic book character is likely to have particular appeal to children and young people (in breach of the Advertising Codes) regardless of the fact that it is unlikely to be viewed by many children,
  • gambling products should avoid names that are likely to appeal to under 18 year olds, particularly if presented with colourful and exaggerated cartoon-like imagery, that is likely to strengthen that appeal,
  • while some ‘cartoon’-style graphics might be acceptable if they are adult in their execution, marketers run the risk of appealing to under-18s if they are too similar in their appearance to cartoons popular with children, but
  • where an ad features content that may appeal particularly to children but appears in a context that effectively excludes children from seeing it, that content may be considered acceptable.

This joint action – unprecedented in our experience – follows recent adverse media publicity originating with a headline article in the Sunday Times on 8 October entitled “Cartoons lure kids to online gambling”. David Clifton wrote about this subject last week in his monthly Licensing Expert article for SBC News entitled “Be mindful of protecting children”.

This story is also being carried today by a BBC News item called “Remove ads that appeal to children, gambling sites told” and by a fresh article in today’s Sunday Times called “Gambling sites forced to stop luring children”.

Update: The above story is also reported in an SBC News item entitled “UK operators told to remove child-themed” advertising inventory” (also downloadable below) that makes reference to David’s “Be mindful of protecting children” article.

Download article PDF: ASA-CAP-CG-RGA letter 20.10.17