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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

'Bet now' television adverts to be banned as watchdog toughens up rules

Remote Gambling Association chief executive Clive Hawkswood
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Gambling television adverts which exhort viewers to 'bet now' are to be banned under new standards issued by the advertising watchdog.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the body which writes and maintains the UK’s advertising codes – has announced tougher rules on gambling advertising, which it says appeal to problem gamblers, and on free bets and bonuses.

They are the latest in a series of measures taken surrounding gambling advertising, the growth of which has become increasingly controversial.

The issue forms part of the government's review of gambling and CAP said the measures outlined on Wednesday helped it meet commitments set out in the consultation.

Aside from restrictions on adverts which "create an inappropriate sense of urgency", CAP said the new rules would "curb trivialisation of gambling" and also prevent approaches which give an "irresponsible perception" of the risk such as "risk free deposit bonus".

The new standards would also prevent "undue emphasis on money-motives for gambling" and provide more details on vulnerable groups such as problem gamblers that advertisers need to protect.

CAP said that while its evidence suggested that advertising "does not play a causal or even significant role in problem gambling or harm in general", there were potential risk factors in advertising that might influence people to behave irresponsibly.

CAP director Shahriar Coupal said: "We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eyecatching free bet and bonus offers.  

"Our new guidance takes account of the best available evidence to strengthen the protections already in place, ensuring that gambling is presented responsibly, minimising the potential for harm."

CAP said its measures would complement the recent crackdown on unfair terms and conditions announced by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Significant conditions must always be prominently displayed, CAP said, while "money back" offers must be in cash and not bonuses; "risk free" offers must incur no loss to the consumer; and any stake limitation on "matched bets" should be treated as a significant condition and stated upfront.

The Gambling Commission welcomed the news. Programme director Ian Angus said: “The new advertising standards set clear expectations for the gambling industry.

"Gambling firms must not advertise in a way that could encourage problem gambling behaviour. Consumers must be able to make informed choices about how and when they gamble and not feel pressured into making decisions that could cause them harm.

“We expect gambling businesses to review the new guidance now and adjust any marketing and advertising accordingly. We support any enforcement activity by the ASA against operators who do not comply, and will not hesitate to take our own action against those who do not take their responsibilities seriously.”

A spokesman for ITV, whose racing coverage contains numerous bookmaker advertisements, said: "ITV takes its responsibilities to viewers very seriously. We adhere to strict processes to ensure compliance with the regulatory codes, and we will be adopting these new standards on gambling advertising." 

Reflecting on the announcement, Remote Gambling Association chief executive Clive Hawkswood said he hoped the measures would help address concerns about gambling advertising.

"In recent months we have worked constructively with the Committees of Advertising Practice [CAP] and other stakeholders on a range of related issues," he said.

"This new guidance is the latest reflection of that and we fully support the thrust of the new measures. We hope and believe that collectively this and other initiatives will go a long way to addressing many of the concerns that have been expressed about gambling advertising, especially on television."

The Advertising Standards Authority will use the standards, which come into force on April 2, when considering future complaints about adverts.

Further guidance focusing on the protection of children and young people will be issued later this year, CAP said.

That follows a joint letter CAP, the ASA, the Gambling Commission and the RGA sent out in October highlighting the rules on children and gambling to online gambling operators.

Mark Etches, chief executive of BeGambleAware, said: "We welcome these new regulations as we see them as a step in the right direction. For people who are struggling with a gambling problem it can be incredibly difficult to resist the urge to gamble when you're surrounded by adverts to place a bet.

"Also we don't know what effect these adverts are having on young people and their future behaviour which is why we need to act now to stop gambling being normalised for children. In particular, we hope to see a better balance among gambling advertising that acknowledges the risky nature of gambling and promotes the help and support that's available for people."

Last month the Gambling Commission launched a consultation proposing that in future any firm breaching advertising codes could be subject to the full range of its powers, including fines.


The waters continue to get ever more choppy for bookmakers, with the industry subject to a further volley of criticism on Wednesday.  

In laying down stricter rules for the content of gambling ads, the Committee of Advertising Practice vetoed any future use of the 'bet now' message as a means of protecting potentially vulnerable individuals.

The fact one of the gambling industry's representative groups spoke positively about the directives is largely irrelevant in terms of the way in which the story is presented and consumed. Indeed, some will question how some of the messages conveyed in betting advertisements were ever deemed acceptable in the first place.

Once upon time bookmakers, like journalists, estate agents and politicians, were viewed as pantomime villains within society. Talk of 'beating the bookie' was light and frothy. That is no longer the case. These days the missiles aimed at them contain real venom.

The assaults have come from the Gambling Commission, advertising regulators, the right-wing media, the left-wing media and, if reports are correct, soon as well from Matt Hancock, the government's new Culture Secretary.

Bookmakers had better get used to more of the same.

Lee Mottershead

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We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eyecatching free bet and bonus offers
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