UK industry body The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has issued a lengthy statement imploring the country’s gaming outlets to continue with its commitment to safer gambling. The statement reads:
“As we happily begin to ease our way out of lockdown, we will continue to have our foot on the gas when it comes to our commitment to safer gambling – including responsible advertising.
After more than two months of lockdown, the return of live sport in the form of horse racing, snooker and the greyhounds earlier this week – with news that other sports like football and cricket – are also coming back, was as welcome as the recent heatwave.
Britain is a country of sports fans. Lockdown has been bad enough, but the lack of live sport on the TV has made things even worse for millions of people stuck at home, isolated from friends and family. Live sport is just the morale boost the country needs right now.
The return of sport will of course lead to an increase in sports betting advertising.
There’s always been a relationship between many sports and betting, with racing being the most obvious example.
Not only does betting provide sport with vital funding, but it also supports the TV channels’ ability to broadcast more sport than would otherwise be possible.
Millions of people enjoy gambling occasionally, whether that’s on the National Lottery or on sports, where for many people having a bet simply adds to their enjoyment.
What’s important to me, as CEO of the new standards body, is that people are able to gamble safely and that the regulated industry is committed to the highest possible standards.
That means that when it comes to advertising, we also need the highest possible standards.
That is why during lockdown, when people were confined to their houses, increasing their screen time, often feeling isolated and bored, and for many with financial uncertainty, there was a need for even greater levels of safer gambling and an added layer of sensitivity around advertising.
Gambling, including online, has fallen significantly during lockdown.
Nevertheless, since the start of the crisis, the regulated betting and gaming industry has moved to enhance the measures which were already in place to promote more safer gambling messages across all platforms and to increase interventions like encouraging deposit limits and closing accounts.
At the end of April, our industry went further and announced restrictions on gaming advertising.
As a result, pre-booked advertising slots were devoted to safer gambling messaging, donated to a charity, or removed completely. I had hoped that remaining major gambling operators like the National Lottery would follow our lead, but that sadly didn’t happen.
This agreement by BGC members comes to an end today, but the industry’s commitment to responsible advertising and promoting safer gambling will continue.
To that end, our members – who account for around half of all gambling advertising on TV and radio in the UK – will ensure that at least 20 per cent of all advertising on TV and radio will be safer gambling adverts.
And our members will also continue to abide by the stringent measures which are already put in place by advertising standards watchdogs.
These include ensuring that casino advertising is not allowed before the 9pm watershed and that sports advertising is only permitted around televised sporting events.
In response to public concern, we voluntarily introduced a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on TV advertising around all live sport.
This means that, for any live sports before 9pm, from five minutes before an event starts, during it and until five minutes after it ends, no betting adverts can appear. It is worth remembering, incidentally, that there are no restrictions on National Lottery advertising at any time of day.
No doubt prohibitionists from the anti-gambling lobby will say that the advertising restrictions on our members do not go far enough.
Just like with other product advertising, we are trying to strike a balance in ensuring that reputable, highly-regulated companies are allowed to advertise, but that they do so in a responsible manner.
All our members ensure that their advertising is in line with the Committee on Advertising Practice and Industry Group on Responsible Gambling codes.
The Advertising Standards Authority recently found that children’s exposure to gambling ads peaked in 2013 (at an average of 4.4 ads per week) since when it has decreased by just under half. The ASA also revealed that Lottery, scratchcards and bingo make up the majority of gambling ads on TV that children see.
Broadcasters play their part too and are required to prevent age-restricted ads from being seen in or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18 or 16.
The BGC is also developing a Code on Sponsorship to assist operators in applying strong safer gambling principles into future sponsorship.
As with all online advertising, there is an onus on the platform to ensure that they have made every effort to identify the age of their users and for parents to utilise the tools available to block age-restricted content, including creating a profile for the child or placing the account in restricted mode.
BGC members are voluntarily bringing in a default 25+ rule for advertising online where the platform cannot confidently ensure that customers are over 18 and we are also working with the major online platforms on Ad Tech to proactively target marketing away from children, young people and those who are vulnerable to harms by creating an industry-wide list of negative search terms.
The BGC has also called for the Government to take action through the Online Harms Bill to crack down on search platforms who continually permit the promotion of offshore, unregulated, illegal gambling operators. These operators have none of the strict ID and age verification measures deployed by UK licensed operators.
Children going on social media or content platforms such as YouTube should not be able to see gambling advertising.
That is why we are working with third parties – technology platforms and charities alike – to raise awareness of the measures available to tailor the adverts that we, our children and other vulnerable people see.
Marketing on social media is the responsibility of both the platform providers, such as Facebook and Google, and the gambling operators themselves and the CAP Code has strict rules on marketing on social media.
But the BGC is going further by developing a new Code of Conduct for affiliates while encouraging the licensing of affiliates by the Gambling Commission.
In addition, all regulated gambling operators have on their corporate webpages safer gambling messaging and links through to sources of more detailed information.
Our members also insist the content providers use their age-screening tools when marketing to consumers. This approach was piloted by the alcohol industry and adds another safeguard in the push to ensure that under-18s do not receive inappropriate content online.
We are working to make sure that the measures in place are effective and easy to use and that guidance is freely available.
In particular, I welcome the launch of the ‘Parents Hub’ by gambling charity YGAM, which sets out clearly how to set up parental controls, and I would encourage parents to do so.
The ASA are also looking to harness new technology to proactively monitor children’s exposure to online ads and taking quick and effective action where it identifies any problems. As part of our 10 Covid-19 pledges, we also encouraged members to report rogue or illegal advertising.
And all adults who open a new gambling account are asked at the outset if they want to opt in to marketing and advertising. If they do opt in but change their mind and want to take a break or self-exclude, tools are available online to pause or stop receiving marketing.
In the coming weeks and months, millions of us will fancy a flutter – whether that’s on Royal Ascot or a bet on the Merseyside derby – and the vast majority will do so happily and safely. The BGC is determined that every possible step is taken to make sure that continues to be the case.
As we happily begin to ease our way out of lockdown, we will continue to have our foot on the gas when it comes to our commitment to safer gambling – including responsible advertising.”
Michael Dugher is the Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council and is a former MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
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