On 20 November 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) concluded that a promotion on the back of a child's bus ticket for Cashino Gaming Ltd t/a Merkur Cashino (“Merkur Cashino”) offering free plays on a gambling machine was not directed at children. The ad did not breach the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising (“CAP Code”) because the proportion of under 18s in the audience for the ad was under 25% of the total audience.

The Ad

In May 2019, Merkur Cashino ran a promotion on the back of bus tickets, which highlighted the refurbishment of the Merkur Cashino venue and offered customers £5 of free plays on a machine of their choice.

Merkur Cashino had confirmed with its ad agency that, on the bus route the promotion was running on, 23.1% of ticketed passengers were between the ages of 5 and 15 years old.

In addition, National Express West Midlands ("Bus Operator"), who operated the bus route, said that in a term-time week only around 27% of journeys were undertaken by passengers who actually bought a paper ticket and would potentially receive the ad.

The proportion of paper tickets being purchased by children on that route was 15% during term time, meaning that only around 3% of all passenger journeys were made by children buying a cash paper ticket on the bus.

Merkur Cashino also said that the ad was not likely to be of particular appeal to under 18s, as the artwork did not contain anything that was likely to appeal to children or be associated with youth culture. The ad also included a banner which referenced responsible gambling as well as including the "over 18s" symbol.

The decision

The ASA investigated the complaint under CAP Code rules 16.1, 16.3 and 16.3.13, and explained that CAP Code rule 16.3.13 required that marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at under 18s through the selection of media or context in which they appeared. The ASA required operators to demonstrate that gambling ads were not placed in media where the protected age category made up more than 25% of the audience.

The ASA considered that bus tickets were not media specifically directed at children, and therefore looked at the proportion of under 18s in the audience that the ad was aimed at.

It was acknowledged by the ASA that certain bus routes might have a higher concentration of children, such as where those bus routes serve schools. However, on the bus route referred to by the complainant, the highest percentage of paper tickets issued to children in term time was 15%.

Taking this and the information provided by the Bus Operator into account, the ASA ruled that the proportion of children in the audience for the ad was under 25% of the total audience, and therefore that the promotion did not breach the CAP Code.

Key takeaways

This decision follows the ASA's recent enhanced guidance on protecting children and young people, which came into effect on 1 April 2019.

In addition to ensuring 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, promoters must refrain from using in their ads sportspeople or celebrities who are or appear to be under 25.

Before advertising, operators should obtain robust evidence that they have been thorough in estimating the likely audience for a marketing communication, and where this is not clear, they should exercise caution.

A link to the full ASA decision can be found here.