“From ancient times in China, Egypt and Rome, it has been present as a pastime, affording enjoyment for many, corrupting some and harming not a few…”
Of gods and mortals
In his introduction in the Chambers and Partners Gaming Law Global Practice Guide, Julian Harris writes of Palamedes, the god to which the Greeks ascribed the invention of dice, as well as weights and measures. With the publication of the sixth edition of the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (the “Industry Code”), now under the custody of the Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”), it is this dichotomy of play and balance that is held in mind.
As technology and its consumption changes and continues to advance, consumers across industries are more exposed to advertising than ever, maximising fun but also magnifying potential harm. With the scope of online advertising presenting the greatest influence, and arguably the most risk, it is unsurprising that one of the key areas of update in the Industry Code relates to social media, in respect of marketing and its use to promote consumer awareness.
What licensees need to know
From 1 October 2020, Gambling Commission-licensed operators are required to enforce the following:
- Sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted at consumers aged 25+. This requirement relates solely to prospecting campaigns where the targeted audience is not already verified through an operator’s own age verification processes;
- Given improvements in identification technology if a social media platform can verifiably prove that its age gating systems can prevent under 18s from accessing the gambling advertising content, a possibility exists that the above age filter may be reduced to 18+;
- Organic YouTube content produced by an operator as well an operator’s own YouTube channels must be age-restricted to 18+ to ensure users log in to age-verified accounts in order to view content;
- Operators should undertake reasonable endeavours to exclude from their paid-for social media campaigns (a) customers with an active self-exclusion or cool-off period and (b) those assessed by an operator as ‘higher risk’;
- Operators must use their own social media pages to post frequent safer gambling related information; and
- Operators must provide information (in an easily accessible and sufficiently prominent manner) on how customers can limit their exposure to gambling advertising across social media platforms.
In other areas, further changes to the Industry Code include:
- Search advertisements must clearly contain 18+ messaging in the advertisement copy, along with safer gambling messaging within the core ad format;
- The BGC will collate (and regularly update) a shared blacklist of negative keywords, against which no gambling advertising should be served. This blacklist will include keywords that (a) indicate vulnerability and (b) relate to children. Operators must, “in a timely fashion”, incorporate the keyword blacklist into all relevant campaigns where applicable;
- These requirements will also apply to any affiliate marketing carried out on behalf of an operator.
- All affiliates must be subject to due diligence and PEPS/sanctions checks. KYC checks should also be conducted, wherever relevant.
- Affiliates must comply with all relevant regulatory and legislative requirements including CAP’s guidance on ensuring advertisements are obviously identifiable as such. In order to promote consistency, all relevant affiliate ads should be clearly and prominently marked ‘#ad’;
- Relevant affiliates must share safer gambling related content on a regular basis with each individual operator with whom that affiliate has an agreement;
- It is expected that (a) compliance with the above requirements will be managed by way of contractual obligations imposed by operators and (b) operators will terminate relationships with affiliates that cannot or do not comply, the Industry Code adding that this will be “preferably on a one strike and you’re out rule” basis.
As many will already be aware, ordinary code provision 5.1.8 of the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice states: “[l]icensees should follow any relevant industry code on advertising, notably the Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising”.
The Industry Code states that it aims for the above changes to “better protect children and vulnerable consumers online”, with BGC Chief Executive, Michael Dugher, further adding:
“We have made excellent progress in recent times and the Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising is updated as technology evolves. The latest edition is further evidence of our determination to continue to ensure that standards are rising and are as high as they can possibly be”.
The measures are certainly timely in light of the Advertising Standards Authority’s findings published in August 2020, which revealed that four operators had breached age-restricted advertising rules.
Whistle-blowing at its finest
By contrast, in other avenues of advertising, the ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban (introduced under John Hagan’s leadership as former Chair of IGRG) has proven markedly effective, with the BGC noting that betting advertisements seen by children has since fallen by 97% and that the amount of gambling advertisements viewed by children has fallen by 70% over the full duration of live sport programmes.