Despite increased pushback and criticism, TikTok Australia has expanded a trial involving partnerships with bookmakers, increasing the number of gambling-related ads users will see.
The controversial trial first began late last year with a partnership between TikTok and Sportsbet, the country’s biggest online betting company. Experts from various fields, including marketing, mental health and problem gambling have condemned the practice as being predatory and misleading.
Now, the trial has expanded to include two more bookmakers, Dabble and Neds. Dabble has enlisted former Australian football star Dane Swan for its ads, and Neds’ marketing is encouraging users to download its new app.
Some have also bemoaned the fact that worldwide regulation of TikTok is all over the place, meaning that it will be extremely difficult to eradicate or discourage the tactic.
“Advertisements are targeted at those aged 21 years and over, there is a frequency cap at which the ads are shown, and there is an opt out feature for those who do not wish to see the ads,” a spokesperson from TikTok said in a statement to the Guardian. “We are also continuing to monitor the ads to ensure that all users have a safe experience.”
Even though the ads include all the required problem gambling language, the messages are usually placed at the end of the content, by which time most users have already scrolled to the next post.
Simone McCarthy, a gambling researcher at Deakin University, told the Guardian that the increased level of ads will have an effect on younger users, given that social media is now the predominant form of entertainment and pop culture.
“It’s quite narrow to just look at the impact of gambling ads with sports [coverage], as young people are predominately spending their time on social media,” said McCarthy. “The sports betting companies have switched on and are moving to these platforms where governments are not looking.”
With regards to users clicking out of videos before the safety messages appear, McCarthy said that “this shows that the government has not really thought about how these messages will translate to social media.”
The Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR), a prominent responsible gambling organization, has also come out against the expansion of the trial, saying that it could “open the floodgates” of gambling to a whole new subset of Australians.
Most bookmakers’ target audiences have traditionally been young males, but the new partnership could be seen as a way to expand and diversify that audience.
In a statement to the Guardian, an AGR spokesperson said that posts “have been gender-targeted with young women being told they can now place bets on superficial things like BeReal times, Love Island and White Lotus season three.”