UK Online Gambling Advertising Under Scrutiny After a Number of Regulatory Breaches
Online gambling advertising in the United Kingdom has found itself under increased scrutiny in recent weeks after a number of regulatory breaches and unethical practices were exposed across the sector. In November, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints made against 777.com — a subsidiary of 888 UK Ltd — relating to the content of its ads. The complaints were made regarding a 777.com advertisement that offered free spins on a casino game for a limited time, denoted by a timer included in the ad. However, these free spins did not cease when the advertisement’s built-in timer ended.
Other text included in the ad described how casinos were trying to get a “free Android App” shut down due to the large progressive jackpots that consumers were able to win using only free spins. The ASA ruled that the way in which the ad was structured and delivered to customers was misleading and in breach of industry regulation.
777 had argued that their teams had not been responsible for producing the ad, and that it was instead the work of a third-party gambling affiliate advertising program. The ASA accepted that this was the case but decided that this did not absolve 777 and 888 of responsibility. Instead, the ASA said that “as the beneficiaries of the marketing material, [777 and 888] were responsible for the ad.”
Investigations into Unethical Advertising
Even more disturbing were the claims made against the Sky Vegas online casino. The casino’s parent company, Flutter, is accused of sending targeted advertisements that offered free spins on casino games to recovering gambling addicts, many of whom were part of voluntary self-exclusion programs. The contacts were made during the gambling industry’s highly publicized Safer Gambling Week — an event designed to highlight the importance of responsible and ethical practices in the gambling industry.
Online gambling regulation in the UK has already been in the spotlight over the last 12 months, with parliamentary reviews into the Gambling Act 2005 threatening the future of sports betting sponsorship across the country. The actions of Sky Vegas — who have since acknowledged and apologized for their unethical ad strategies — are likely to pile further pressure on the industry as a whole. In order to retain lucrative sports sponsorship and advertising rights, gambling providers need to show that they are committed to responsible and sustainable gambling, and the development of an industry that supports the social fabric of the UK, not one that hinders it. When online gambling advertising contravenes legal regulation and ethical guidelines, it strikes a blow to the industry’s public profile.
A Collective Responsibility
If the gambling industry is to thrive in the UK, providers need to do more than simply toe the regulatory line. They need to actively take the lead in encouraging and upholding responsible practices across the market. This includes ensuring that all affiliates and associated programs are similarly compliant — as we have seen, the ASA holds gambling providers responsible for the content of all affiliate advertisements.