On 19 September 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published three new rulings in which it condemned Eaton Gate Gaming Ltd t/a Kwiff (“Kwiff”) for irresponsible advertising practices, and also condemned WHG (International) Ltd t/a William Hill Vegas (“William Hill”) and Greentube Alderney Ltd t/a Bell Fruit Casino (“Bell Fruit”) for ads targeting children.

Each of these rulings is discussed in detail, below.

The rulings

(1) Kwiff

The ASA held that gambling operator Kwiff’s television ad portrayed, condoned or encouraged gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm in breach of rules 1.2 and 17.3.1 of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (“the BCAP Code”). The ad in question featured the testimonials of exclusively male customers, including “it’s quite a buzz actually,” “it’s like winning twice” and “my phone’s buzzing on the table,” among others.

Though the ad was unscripted and portrayed the experiences of real-life Kwiff customers, the overall impression of the ad was found to have encouraged socially irresponsible gambling. In particular, the ASA noted that the word “buzz” is commonly associated with the experience of problem gambling, and that the term is therefore problematic in context. The fact that the customers in the ad were exclusively male (and that many appeared to be in their late 20s and early 30s) presented an additional concern for the ASA, as this demographic is more likely to engage in irresponsible behaviour.

The full ruling can be found here.

(2) William Hill and Bell Fruit

Complainants in the William Hill and Bell Fruit cases questioned whether the companies’ in-app ads breached rule 16.3.13 of the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising (“the CAP Code”), which states that marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at those aged younger than 18 years through the selection of media or content in which they appear.

An ad for William Hill was deployed using Google’s Universal App Campaigns service to appear within the app “New MarioKart 8 Trick.” The ad was seen on a shared device used by both adults and children while logged into the adult’s Google account. Though New MarioKart 8 Trick is not considered to be children’s media, the ASA held that children were likely to use the app. Similarly, in the Bell Fruit case, Google’s Universal App Campaigns service was also used to deploy a gambling ad that appeared in the “Dude Perfect 2” app, which was then seen by the complainant’s seven-year-old son while he was using his parent’s device. This app was considered suitable for all ages and appealed equally to children and adults.

The ASA found that neither company took sufficient steps to prevent children from seeing their advertisements. Both companies were reprimanded for failing to use tools and options that would have allowed them to block their ads from appearing in specific types of apps. Since children can misrepresent their ages online, the ASA argued that ads should be targeted using interest-based and behavioural tracking techniques, and not solely using age data. Interestingly, the ASA also noted that Google’s Universal App Campaign does not actually allow for such interest-based targeting, thereby implying that any gambling operators using this ad service risk breaching the CAP Code.

Please click here for the full William Hill ruling and here for the Bell Fruit ruling.

Key takeaways

These three rulings are the latest in a series of ASA cases focusing on the protection of young or vulnerable consumers. Specifically, the above rulings highlight the inadequacies of in-app audience targeting tools, and the dangers such inadequacies pose for gambling operators seeking to comply with the CAP Code.

It is worth noting that, from 31 October 2018, the Gambling Commission will have new enforcement powers in relation to gambling advertising and will be authorised to issue fines and other measures for advertising breaches. Gambling operators should therefore ensure that their in-app and television ads comply with both the CAP and BCAP Codes going forward.