Gambling ads and children operators caught by new ASA technology

United Kingdom

Last week, the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") announced that five gambling operators were in breach of the UK CAP Code provisions relating to the protection of children from gambling ads.

Using child "avatars" (online profiles that mimic children browsing) over a two-week period, the ASA identified ads by 43 gambling operators that appeared on freely accessible sites, including children's websites. Of these 43 gambling operators, the ASA found five brands had broken the advertising rules that prohibit gambling ads targeting under 18s. These firms were: NetEnt Product Ltd (Vikings Video Slot); Evoke Gaming Ltd (Redbet); Multilotto UK Ltd; Unibet; and PlayOjo. The main culprit was Vikings Video Slot, whose ads accounted for almost half of the ads caught, and 80% of the number of times a gambling ad appeared.

The ASA said each of the operators accepted they had broken the rules but that in most instances, the operators informed the ASA that the appearance of the ads on such websites arose due to errors by third-party companies the operators had contracted with to manage their advertising campaigns. In any case, the ASA has instructed the companies to take immediate action to review their online ads, ensure they are not served to web users aged below 18 years of age and to put in place measures to ensure this does not happen again.

Lessons for operators

Gambling advertising continues to be a controversial topic. Indeed, the news of the ASA announcement was met by much negative media coverage, with some publications making the link between one of the operators caught, Unibet, and the prevalence of gambling advertising in sport given Unibet was Aston Villa's main shirt sponsor last season and is their current training kit sponsor.

Further, it is perhaps no coincidence that this announcement from the ASA came in the same week that enhanced provisions in the UK CAP and BCAP Codes, relating to the protection of under-18s from gambling advertising, came into force. Our analysis of the new provisions can be found here. The new monitoring technology used by the ASA will add bite to these enhanced provisions and the ASA is now looking to expand this technology so that it can extend monitoring to sites that require a log-in procedure.

Any gambling operator advertising in the UK should proactively review its advertising policy to ensure it is compliant. This may also include reviewing any relevant agreements it has in place with advertising agencies who administer their advertising campaigns, which was an issue for some of the operators in this case. As previously shown by the ASA in its rulings and guidance on affiliate marketing, it is the gambling operator that retains primary responsibility for compliance with the UK Advertising Codes and, by extension, Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice provision 5.1.6 (compliance with advertising codes).

Therefore, in light of the ASA announcement, gambling operators should ensure that they have oversight over the agency's compliance with the UK Advertising Codes, for example, through regular reporting obligations or compliance reports. They should also ensure that they have sufficient contractual protection in the case of non-compliance.