CAP launches public consultation on proposed restrictions for gambling advertisements

United Kingdom

The Committees of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) has launched a public consultation on proposals to introduce new advertising guidance and rules aimed at protecting children, young people and vulnerable people from harms associated with gambling advertisements. CAP, which is primarily responsible for the codes of conduct for UK advertising and marketing, has suggested that the proposals would likely prohibit the use of celebrities, such as reality TV stars and sports celebrities, in gambling advertisements. CAP believes that the “the new restrictions would have significant implications for gambling advertisers looking to promote their brands using prominent sports people and celebrities, and also individuals like social-media influencers”.

The consultation is based on research commissioned by independent charity GambleAware. The research highlighted how the use of lotteries and gambling advertisements could potentially adversely impact under 18s, more so than previously understood. GambleAware’s quantitative findings found that 23% of individuals aged between 11 and 17 had participated in gambling in the last month, although no evidence was found of any specific targeting of under 18s in advertisements.

Under current UK standards, gambling advertisements are banned from appealing “particularly” to under 18s, meaning they are prohibited from appealing more so to under 18s than to adults. The proposals would strengthen this by prohibiting content which appeals “strongly” to under 18s. “Strong appeal” can be distinguished from “particular appeal” in that the former does not rely on a comparison of the likely appeal of the content to adults. According to CAP, this restriction could have “significant implications” on the use of celebrities in advertising going forward, albeit celebrities who do not attract a significant under 18 following are unlikely to be affected.

CAP proposed further measures to reduce the likelihood of gambling and lotteries advertising irresponsibly appealing to vulnerable adults, in particular adults with gambling-related issues. Under the proposals, CAP guidance would be amended to prohibit the following:

  • the presentation of complex bets in a form that emphasises the skill or intelligence involved to inappropriately suggest a level of control over the bet which is not likely to apply in practice;

  • the presentation of gambling as a way to be part of a skill-based community;

  • the suggestion that “money back” offers security;

  • humour or light-heartedness which is used specifically to downplay the risks of gambling; and

  • unrealistic depictions of winners (for instance, winning easily or first time).

CAP made clear that the proposals were intended to be “proportionate and effective in striking an appropriate balance between commercial freedoms and the need to limit under-18s’ exposure to gambling advertising.” Accordingly, it said that the current “25% test” restriction, which ensures that non-broadcast ads for gambling, alcohol and other age-restricted ads are prohibited when served to mixed age audiences where more than 25% the audience are under 18, was fit for purpose.  CAP also did not believe that there should be an outright ban on gambling advertising, nor did it endorse the GambleAware recommendation to restrict the range of media where gambling advertisements are shown.

The consultation closes on 22 January 2021.

Co-authored by James Highfield