UK's ASA defends igaming ad controls following Sky criticism

10 December 2018

The UK’s advertising watchdog has rejected claims by the chief executive of broadcaster Sky that online advertising is largely unregulated compared to television ads.

Stephen van Rooyen warned today (December 10) that the proposed ‘whistle-to-whistle’ TV advertising ban during sports broadcasts likely to be agreed by major gambling operators this week will simply mean more money spent on online marketing.

He said the switch from “highly-regulated” TV to the “largely unregulated” online space would lead to a greater risk of minors and vulnerable people being exposed to, and negatively impacted by, gambling advertising.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told iGamingBusiness.com that Van Rooyen’s claims were inaccurate. The regulator cited the CAP and BCAP codes that govern both channels, as well as pointing out action it has taken against digital ads and new guidance issued in recent years specifically tailored to online advertising.

“Online advertising is subject to the same strict regulations as broadcast advertising,” an ASA spokesperson said.

“Gambling advertisers are required to target their ads away from children online and we have previously ruled against advertisers that break the rules," the spokesperson explained. "Earlier this year, we [also] published guidance that sets new standards to ensure ads remain responsible and mitigate potential harms associated with problem gambling.”

Last year ASA issued guidance on media placement restrictions to prohibit age-restricted marketing communications from appearing in media. In separate guidance focused on age-restricted advertising, ASA called on marketers to use data to ensure minors were not exposed to gambling ads. Companies were also warned that they must be able to demonstrate efforts taken to ensure minors are less likely to be exposed to age-restricted ads.

ASA has issued a series of rulings against online advertisers from the gambling sector in the last few months alone. M88.com and Fun88.co.uk were rapped for adverts for products that could appeal to minors, while William Hill was found to have advertised on a mobile app aimed at children.

In an op ed for today’s (Monday) Times newspaper, Van Rooyen cited GambleAware figures showing that the vast majority of the gambling industry's advertising spend is focused online, rather than on television. He therefore claimed the voluntary TV ban proposed by Remote Gambling Association (RGA) members would be less effective than a concerted effort to reduce online advertising.

“TV advertising is already highly regulated, with rules around exposing inappropriate advertising to minors and limiting when and how often gambling ads can be seen," Van Rooyen wrote. "This is not the case online.

“If the RGA plan is implemented, then spend would simply shift even further online, with smartphones, tablets and computers targeted with even greater precision. This doesn’t feel like a good outcome for anyone except gambling firms and online tech platforms.”