Probes over William Hill and Bet365 ads

16 July 2018

The UK’s advertising watchdog is examining whether World Cup adverts by Bet365 and William Hill contravened new gambling guidelines.

115 complaints were filed with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by members of the public during the four weeks of Russia 2018, with many expressing concerns about the number of gambling adverts being broadcast. That was more than four times the number of complaints during the previous month.

ASA is examining several adverts that offered improved odds for a short period. It will ascertain whether they contravene new guidance in the advertising code of practice that bars companies from making urgent calls to action. iGamingBusiness.com can reveal that the ads are from William Hill and Bet365.

In the gambling advertising guidance published by the Committees of Advertising Practice in February, the organisation identified ‘impulsiveness and urgency’ as specific concerns. To combat the issue, it created a provision that “makes clear that ads should not unduly pressure people to gamble.”

The guidance “specifically cautions against the use of urgent calls to action when gambling opportunities offered are subject to a significant time limitation; for example, the use of 'Bet now!' during a live sporting event”. The ASA explained that live odds themselves are not prohibited, while conditions to offers, such as time limits "are important bits of information that need to be included in ads otherwise they run the risk of being misleading."

An ASA source told iGamingBusiness.com: "The majority of the complaints we received during the World Cup were about the amount/volume of gambling ads that appear as well as concerns that betting and gaming ads should not be scheduled around programmes when children are watching. Viewers find this irresponsible and inappropriate. There were other complaints about misleading ts & cs.

"We don’t regulate the amount of ads that appear. But under the current scheduling rules, gambling ads cannot appear on dedicated children’s channels or in and around programmes principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to them. World Cup games do not fall under that definition."

The Guardian newspaper reported that 17% of all advertising breaks on ITV during the four-week tournament were populated by gambling-related commercials. Research conducted by the University of Sheffield, Box of Broadcasts and the Guardian found that gambling adverts totalled about 80 minutes during the World Cup, well ahead of second-placed motoring ads, which logged around 60 minutes.

The saturation of adverts during live broadcasts could lead to gambling becoming “normalised” for young people, many of whom would have been watching World Cup games, according to GambleAware chief executive Marc Etches.

He said: “The concern is that this is an adult activity and young people are growing up with it being normalised. They get exposed to it on television around sports, advertising online and gambling activities within [computer] games.

“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.”

In all, the Guardian logged 1,300 separate adverts screened by ITV over the course of the World Cup of which 172 were betting-related.

Gambling adverts are banned in the UK prior to the 9pm watershed unless they are broadcast during a live sport event. In contrast, Australia recently introduced a ban on betting advertisements during daytime live sports broadcasts on television channels.

Broadcasters are not able to show betting ads from five minutes before the start of play until five minutes after the event has ended, between the hours of 5am and 8:30pm.

Last week, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) proposed further restrictions on gambling advertising in the country by turning its attention to online streaming services.