The Gambling Industry, Young Minds, Advertising and Regulation
In November 2016, the Gambling Commission published their annual report on young people and gambling indicating that 75% of 11-15 year olds have seen gambling advertisements on TV and almost one in ten follow gambling companies on social media sites. These figures were released in a climate where companies have been criticised for marketing campaigns which are likely to appeal to children. A notable example was Ladbrokes who were singled out by the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) for an email featuring an image of comic hero Iron Man.
So, what is the actual scale of the problem? According to the Gambling Commission study 11 – 15 year olds are more likely to have spent their own money on gambling activities in the past week than they are to have smoked a cigarette, taken drugs or even consumed alcohol.
This issue has been on the radar for many years now, as far back as 2007 gambling logos were removed from all children’s merchandise, a 9pm watershed was imposed on TV gambling advertising other than sports betting around televised sports events and Bingo, and adverts were required to include information about the Gamble Aware website.
In 2015 The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) released a voluntary code designed to promote socially responsible advertising in a bid to tighten controls through a self-regulation approach. Measures included more comprehensive messaging about socially responsible gambling, not only for TV and radio ads but also encompassing social media, web advertising and messages on companies own websites. The widespread use of sign-up incentives for new customers in ads before the 9pm watershed was also tackled by the group in an attempt to stop this practice.
On 24th October, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport launched a consultation in part designed to look at social responsibility measures and gambling advertising. The consultation is also looking at the controversial Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBT’s) which have in the past been referred to as the crack cocaine of gambling. The aim of the consultation is to strike the right balance between allowing the industry to grow whilst also minimising the risk of gambling related harm and safeguarding the right measures to ensure the young and vulnerable are protected. The consultation closed on 4th December and we are awaiting the findings.
The consultation is set against a backdrop where there is a wider political push to protect children online as demonstrated by the The Digital Economy Bill which looks set to receive Royal Assent as early as spring this year. Amongst other things the bill aims to empower the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to publish and enforce guidelines about how pornographic websites should ensure their users are over 18.
A closer look at the Parliamentary Register of Members Financial Interests suggests that gambling companies could be seen to be launching an MP charm offensive whilst MP’s consider a number of proposed changes against a backdrop of increased regulation. The Guardian’s study of the register showed 33 instances of politicians enjoying hospitality from the gambling industry in 2016 compared to just 9 in 2015. Whist there is, of course, no suggestion that corporate hospitality has in any way influenced the way MP’s view the proposals it is the sort of thing that keeps Compliance Officers awake at night.
The Gambling Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice state that all licensees “should follow any relevant industry code of practice on advertising, notably the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising”. What should gambling companies do in the face of increased regulation scrutiny and controls on their marketing activities? It seems that genuine social responsibility and self-regulation leading to best practice are paramount. It is imperative that we can balance commercial success with political and public perception of the industry. There has never been a more appropriate time for compliance and marketing teams to work together.