Marketing: The foundations of a more responsible industry?

7 August 2018

Paula Pusey looks at the growing scrutiny on gambling marketing and why it may be an opportunity rather than a threat

Last week the Gambling Commission (GC) published updated rules on advertising, pledging to take “tougher action” against businesses that contravene the fair and open licensing objective.

The stricter stance came hot on the heels of the controversial Italian blanket ban on sports betting advertising and sponsorship, and there is no let up from the mainstream media either.

In June the Mirror ran a front page story about a 13-year-old boy managing to run up £80,000 of gambling debts after seeing promotions at a football match.

If the power of advertising was ever in doubt, the World Cup resulted in booming business with £2.5bn wagered in the UK alone during the tournament.

Data from research firm YouGov suggests that in the region of six million adults placed bets during the tournament and two million new accounts were opened. Much of that increase in betting is being attributed to sponsorship and advertising.

Radio 4’s You and Yours programme analysed the commercial breaks of 11 games broadcast on ITV and found that 62 of the 66 ad breaks during those games included at least one gambling advert. In addition, the ASA are said to be investigating some 115 complaints.

The GC consultation resulted in an unprecedented 81 responses from consumers leading to changes to the licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP), which will take effect from 31 October 2018.

Working alongside the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the GC pledges to ensure promotions are fair, are not misleading and are not targeted at vulnerable people.

They also state that they will be placing emphasis on ensuring consumers don’t receive spam marketing by email or SMS and that licensees are responsible for the actions of third parties, including marketing affiliates.

Commenting on the findings at the time, Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur said: “Protecting the interests of consumers is a priority for us and needs to be a priority for gambling operators.

These changes will protect consumers from irresponsible advertising and misleading promotions, ensure that they can withdraw their money more easily, and will mean that firms have to deal with complaints more swiftly.”

Wiggin partner and gaming law specialist Stephen Ketteley said despite criticism some feeling the GC has started to encroach on the roles of other UK regulatory bodies, a multi-agency approach to consumer protection is most likely to make the gambling industry up its game.

“Operators will, however, be nervous about the possibility of the Commission punishing them on the back of decisions by the ASA, which many continue to view as subjective,” he said.

“This is likely to be a potential source of friction and it will be interesting to see if the Commission reserves this card only for the more flagrant breaches of the advertising codes.”

There is plenty of evidence that operators are taking this very seriously and viewing it as a huge opportunity for gambling businesses to bring in a new era of responsible or even mindful gambling culture.

Last year Sky Betting & Gaming pioneered putting social responsibility at the centre of their campaigns with TV adverts featuring Geoff Stelling addressing the viewer directly for the full 30-second advert talking about when the fun stops stop.

As Ketteley put it: “The reality is that responsible operators have been prioritising compliance projects in many of the areas referred to above for some time now in recognition of the inevitable regulatory headwinds.

“For those operators who remain behind the curve, the changes to the LCCP further demonstrate that the regulator is committed to raising standards and following through on its tougher enforcement strategy to achieve that goal – its toolkit has just got larger.”

The GC has acknowledged the willingness of some operators to listen to and act on consumers’ concerns and the need for customers to be able to differentiate between providers on the basis of customer care and values.

In such a competitive market this is an important point. The customer base is changing and more discerning players will gravitate towards operators they believe they can trust.

As is always the case when it comes to player protection and social responsibility, the issues surrounding responsible marketing are complex. They require collaboration from stakeholders across the industry including regulators, operators, developers, legal professionals, consumers and supporting charities.

Will Ridley, brand executive at Sky Betting & Gaming and chair of the Young People and Student Advisory Group for YGAM says: “We need to continue to find innovative ways to protect children and young people with the rise of smartphone usage, social media and online gambling and gaming.

Protecting young people with age-related marketing content and adverts that do not appeal to children is just the start. It’s time for us to open the debate with young people around how they use smart phones and what content they see.”     

Now is the time for the industry to address these promotional issues and avoid other jurisdictions taking the sort of extreme action we have seen in Italy. It’s an exciting opportunity for business to continue to boom in a sustainable, responsible and ethical way.

Paula Pusey is founder and managing director at events and gambling compliance  consultancy KnowNow Ltd. The Gambling Commission, CAP and industry experts from the likes of Sky Betting & Gaming and Wiggin LLP will be at the next KnowNow event, Responsible Marketing for Gambling Operators, in London on 3rd October. It will take an in-depth look at responsible marketing and how to make the most of these opportunities. www.knownowltd.com.