The UK’s advertising watchdog is looking into complaints that commercials broadcast by Bet365, Coral, and William Hill during the World Cup may have broken new rules aimed at combating problem gambling.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a self-regulatory organization charged with overseeing compliance of advertisements in the UK, received 115 complaints from the general public throughout the four weeks of the tournament. This news comes as some members of Parliament recommend that gambling adverts should carry warnings similar to those on tobacco products.
Quantity over content
Most of the complaints received by the ASA related to the number of commercials for betting companies broadcast during the tournament, specifically on television. Concerns were raised over the extent of gambling advertising during a period when many children would be watching, with complainants calling gambling operators “irresponsible” for advertising to a potentially vulnerable audience.
Coverage of the tournament was extensive, as was the amount of prominent advertising by operators during commercial breaks. Indeed, the Casino Guardian reported that around 17% of adverts broadcast during the tournament related to betting.
Other complaints included the terms and conditions that related to the offers and the use of time-sensitive odds.
Another element of the advertisements that caused complaints was the time-sensitive nature of the content, alluding to rapidly changing odds that could give viewers a feeling of urgency to place bets.
A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “The promotion of these odds in this format draws strong similarities with the message to ‘bet in play, now!’, which is discouraged in guidance on gambling advertising.”
These messages are thought to be particularly harmful to those who struggle with problem gambling. Promoting live odds may have been in breach of new regulations introduced in February to combat the practice. The ASA will be looking into whether or not the commercials were compliant with regulations as well as whether the frequency of their broadcast could also have had a negative impact.
The ResPublica think tank has said that advertising such as this should carry a health warning. They said: “Gambling advertising should be consistent with other types of addictive or harmful products to public health such as cigarette packs, by featuring identifiable health warnings that cannot be absorbed into an advert’s overall design. The wording of gambling advertisements is a problem because words such as ‘win’ and ‘fun’ are emphasized rather than ‘harm,’ thus normalizing the idea of gambling as a leisure pursuit rather than an addiction.”
Gambling and sport
Gambling advertising is currently banned in the UK on channels aimed at children or during programs that are attractive to a young audience. The regulations concerning advertising to children do not apply to the World Cup coverage. However, Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, has said he is concerned about gambling being “normalized” through advertising during sporting events.
He went on to say: “The concern is that this is an adult activity and young people are growing up with it being normalized. It seems to have gone too far. And for young people growing up there just seems to be a stronger and stronger affiliation between the two [gambling and sport] and I’m wary of that.”
World Cup now under investigation
The Advertising Standards Authority will now look into the complaints and assess whether or not the commercials were in breach of any of the current regulations.
The investigation will evaluate whether or not there is sufficient evidence to justify a formal investigation into the advertising strategies used during the 2018 World Cup.
The ASA does not control the number of commercials broadcast and, with World Cup fixtures being exempt from the children’s broadcasting advertising rules, it is possible that the complaints will not go much further.
The focus will be on whether live odds were featured in the commercials, in which case they will fall afoul of the rules implemented in February as part of the authorities’ plan to tackle potential negative consequences of problem gambling.