Fate of Gambling Ads Awaits U.K. Commission Ruling

One of the major issues floating around the U.K. is the fate of gambling ads, with and without team and player involvement. The industry says it need those ads to survive financially. Critics disagree.

Fate of Gambling Ads Awaits U.K. Commission Ruling

Members of the U.K. Gambling Commission who favor doing away with gambling ads in football have some supporters in the clubs themselves. A group of 20 English Football League and non-league clubs favor a ban on such ads, according to the Daily Mail.

Ministers expect to publish proposed reforms after Easter, with a ban on betting companies on shirt fronts one option. Teams including Luton, Bolton, Tranmere, and Forest Green told the government they “challenge the notion that football is dependent on gambling advertising revenues.”

“As owners, directors, and executives responsible for our clubs, we have witnessed the harmful growth of gambling sponsorship and advertising in football, including the negative impact on our fans.”

A ban on gambling logos on shirts would be a significant acceptance of the harm caused, but the football clubs encourage you to include all gambling advertising in stadiums and competition sponsorship so every young fan can go to any football match—home and away—free of inducements to gamble, the statement read.

Not everyone in the EFL feels that way. Senior officials insist their cash-strapped clubs need the income generated from gambling firm ads to survive.

“This is why we are writing to you today – we want to challenge the notion that football is dependent on gambling advertising revenues. As clubs without these partnerships, we can say categorically that we evidently do not need them. We have managed to source other forms of sponsorship and have attracted partnerships because of our socially responsible stance on this issue,” statement said.

As of October, gambling and betting companies will be prohibited from featuring top-footballers and other sports personalities. The UK’s Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) has issued new rules for gambling ads, banning anything of “strong appeal” to under-18s, including the use of top-flight footballers.

The wide-ranging new rules also include a ban on showing specific teams’ football kit and stadiums in ads, as well as using video game content and gameplay popular with under-18s, according to The Guardian.

“No more top-flight footballers or other high-profile sportspeople promoting the latest odds,” said Shahriar Coupal, the director of the Committee of Advertising Practice, which sets the rules enforced by the U.K.s advertising watchdog. “No more social media influencers, TV stars or other celebrities popular with children inviting us to bet on red. And no more gambling ads featuring video game images or gameplay familiar to many children’s lives.”

Under the current rules, an advertisement is banned only if it is likely to appeal more to an under-18 than to an adult. Under the new rules, an ad will be banned if it is “likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture,” regardless of how it may be viewed by adults.

The timing is geared towards the World Cup in Qatar in November. However, the Advertising Standards Authority, the body that enforces the U.K. ad code, does not have the power to regulate in the contentious area of team sponsors.

“This might not seem immediately significant but its effect—particularly in a World Cup year—will be dramatic,” Coupal said. “By ending these practices, our new rules invite a new era for gambling ads, more particular to the adult audience they can target and more befitting of the age-restricted product they’re promoting.”

The ASA said that children were still seeing on average 2.2 betting or gambling ads a week, although this is the lowest level in 12 years, with existing rules banning anyone under the age of 25 being used in an ad.

“Marketing communications / advertisements for gambling must not be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture,” the new code says.

The CAP did note, however, that sports—particularly football—and esports could be said to have a strong appeal to children given “high rates of participation and engagement among under-18s”, and that a stricter reading of the rule could ban all marketing of betting on these sports, according to iGaming Business.

The new rules follow a consultation on how to ensure minors are protected from the effects of gambling advertising, which itself followed a report by GambleAware on the subject. This consultation drew 27 responses, with some calling for much stronger rules, including an outright ban on gambling ads.

The responses included one from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). The industry body noted its own efforts to reduce youth expose to gambling ads, such as the creation of an AdTech forum to work on technological solutions to the issue, as well as its members implementing a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling ads during live sport.

“Against this backdrop, CAP’s desire to move towards a more restrictive regulatory regime for an industry which, for the most part, is meeting and often exceeding the expected standard appears unnecessary,” it said.

The BGC added that the key change from existing rules would be around the use of sports and particularly sports personalities in gambling ads.

“Any restriction on the use of a sports personality under the proposed strong appeal test would therefore have a huge impact on gambling operators. The current particular appeal test and supporting guidance could continue to be effective in restricting advertising content. Restricting the consideration of appeal to solely an under 18 audience, with no reference to the same content’s appeal to an adult audience (as proposed in the strong appeal test), is a step too far,” BGC said.

“We perceive this lack of proportionality exists as: (a) it cannot be stated with certainty that the appeal of a particular sports personality to a child or young person will affect their view of gambling; and (b) there are many ways in which ads can be targeted at audiences very effectively, but which may not qualify for the age-verification exemption given it’s ‘highly robust’ metrics.”

The BGC also said that it would appear that marketing betting on goal scorers would not fall under the exemption and would therefore be banned. In the final version of the rules though, the CAP clarified that these would be allowed “with text or audio references to a specific player alongside generic footballing imagery,” rather than a picture of the player.