Step change for gambling ads

England and Wales

As part of its continuing response to GambleAware’s Final Synthesis Report on the effect of gambling marketing on under-18s and vulnerable adults, the Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”) has announced ‘tough new rules to curb broad appeal of gambling ads and better protect under-18s’. This follows a consultation CAP launched in October 2020 to respond to GambleAware’s report, the findings of which indicated that regulatory change would help to continue to protect under-18s from gambling-related advertising harms. Under the current rules, an advert is only banned if it is more likely to appeal to an under-18 than an adult. The new rules go further, introducing measures that go beyond this basic principle.

New Rules

The new rules will apply to UK licensed gaming operators and are designed to ensure that ads do not generate a “strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture”. The measures will significantly affect operators’ campaigns and change who they can work with by introducing both practical and technical restrictions.

Practically, operators will no longer be allowed to use top-flight footballers or footballers with a sizable following of under-18s on social media to promote their products. The same restrictions apply to other sports personalities with similarly sizable under-18s followings, such as streamers, bloggers, TikTokers or influencers, amongst others. Similar restrictions are also being introduced for “celebrities popular with under-18s such as reality TV stars”. Technical restrictions include banning ads from including references to video game content and gameplay popular with under-18s.

The new rules will force operators and their marketing teams to move away from sportspeople and others who have become relatively commonplace on their adverts. Recent examples include Jose Mourinho appearing in an ad for PaddyPower and former Love Island contestant Chris Hughes, who is an ambassador for Coral Racing. 

The new rules also extend to a ban on showing specific team’s stadiums and kits in ads, though not to football shirt sponsors, which falls outside the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), who enforce the CAP code (see further detail below).

Intention behind the Changes

The existing rules on gambling ads are contained in section 16 of the CAP code. CAP has consistently placed strong emphasis on protecting young and vulnerable individuals but these rules mark a step change and go further than CAP has gone before in its drive to protect those groups. While the ASA has historically taken action under the existing rules (such as previously banning a gambling app for using a younger footballer), the new rules, which ‘invite a new era for gambling ads’, will allow CAP to go further.

In practice, how the new rules will be interpreted is not entirely clear at this stage. It is difficult to see how the ASA will delineate between different “prominent” sportspeople, and in particular between different sports, with the rules only going as far as stating that they will apply to those sports with a “significant national profile”. What form this profile takes and whether similarity between different sports, such as tennis and squash, could lead to the vast majority of sports being included is not known at this stage. It remains to be seen whether advertisers take a prudent approach or whether they wait and see how the rules are tested and enforced going forwards.

Next Steps

The new rules will come into force on 1 October, in time for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar which starts on 21 November. The changes outlined above will significantly restrict the imagery and references that gambling ads will be allowed to include. Operators, advertisers and other relevant stakeholders, including sport and reality TV personalities, must ensure that they are aware of the changes and prepare to comply accordingly.

Co-authored by Jake Sargent