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.