The consistent growth and diversification of gambling advertising has become an increasing source of concern in the U.K. following a fundamental change in online gambling regulation. it has prompted the UK government to call on regulators to re- examine existing rules on gambling advertising.
Consistent growth in the British gambling industry has been driven, in part, by a steadily increasing social acceptance of online gambling. However, the proliferation of advertising and sponsorship by online gambling operators, particularly surrounding sporting events, is increasingly a source of consumer concern in the UK. Gambling advertising is ubiquitous today – insistent appeals to participate in various forms of gambling are common in virtually all kinds of media. The pervasiveness of online gambling advertising has led to a number of inquiries into the advertising and promotion of gambling products and services, with familiar questions asked as to how best to regulate the industry, protect vulnerable consumers and ensure the integrity of the industry itself.
The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014, due to come into force on 1 November, will fundamentally change the way in which online gambling is regulated in Britain and will bring a wider range of online gambling operators within the ambit of the British Gambling Commission’s licensing regime. Each licensee will be required to comply with the Commission’s licence conditions and codes of practice (“LCCPs”), which include a suite of important rules on social responsibility and fairness and openness to customers. Part of this key change has seen very active and vocal public debate in the UK about a range of gambling advertising issues, from pre-watershed TV advertising to the corruption of sporting events.
The increased volume and diversification of gambling advertising has prompted the UK government to call on regulators to re-examine existing rules on gambling advertising. Technology and consumer preference continue to evolve at a remarkable pace. As the media landscape rapidly transforms, gambling companies have shown themselves eager to use new methods for promoting their products and services, seeking to take advantage of new channels of communication and social networks on the internet. The advent of tablets and similar user-friendly devices, together with the continued development of interactive and social media, has made it easier for people to gamble, particularly among demographics which are more exposed to these technologies. Second screen activity is now the norm – many gambling services now rely on consumer second screen consumption, like mobile apps, to capitalise on appetites for gambling during sports events. In November 2013 Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator, found that the number of gambling advertisements on television had increased six-fold to 1.39 million per year since deregulation in 2007. The prevalence of advertising and sponsorship by online gambling operators has invariably raised concern about the exposure and potential impact this may have on the youth in the UK.
Prompted by the UK government’s review, the Commission recently launched a wide-ranging consultation seeking views from the public and the industry on the level and nature of social responsibility protections that gambling operators must provide. In doing so, the Commission has sought to address growing concerns about the increase in gambling advertising leading to a ‘normalisation’ of gambling within British society.
Under particular scrutiny are connected issues related to: (i) the fairness of free bet or bonus terms; (ii) social responsibility of gambling inducements and rewards; and (iii) the fairness and openness of advertising. The Commission’s proposals are designed to complement the UK government’s broader review of gambling advertising and consumer rights generally.
On its face, many of the Commission’s proposed changes to the social responsibility provisions seem sensible. The proposals seek to reinforce, rather than revolutionise, existing LCCP provisions and guidance in relation to the promotion of free bets and bonuses and, in particular, as regards to the accessibility of significant terms and conditions. Likewise, the Commission seeks to revisit the balance between operators’ legitimate use of inducements and marketing incentives, against the risk that inducements might contribute to problem gambling.
As part of its review, the UK government has also asked: (i) the Remote Gambling Association to make recommendations to the Government on any changes needed to the industry voluntary code, including on the suitability of the 9pm watershed arrangements; (ii) the Advertising Standards Authority to report on the effectiveness of its enforcement action; and (iii) the Committee on Advertising Practice to reconsider its existing advertising code.
Advertising is one of the many environmental factors which contributes to the prevalence of problem gambling. it is unrealistic to expect that general advertising codes and restrictions themselves would have a preventative effect on problem gambling. Gambling operators might reasonably ask what the cost of implementing the british regulator’s new rules on responsible marketing and advertising would be. However, operators with long- term ambitions in the british market should be conscious of the increasing importance that socially responsible marketing and advertising will have for a company’s image. the benefits of creating a favourable impression as a responsible and trustworthy operator may serve to counterbalance any cost of complying with any new rules.