Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Gambling Industry Outlines New Strategy to Prevent Ad Content Being Seen by Under 18s

adults only signIt’s the perennial headache for parents – how can they protect their children from all of the ‘evils’ that are out there?

For decades that has referred specifically to alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, with a liberal sprinkling of underage sex in the mix as well.

But in this digital age, there are new issues to contend with as well, and online gambling is thought to be a growing concern for many.

The UK Gambling Commission conducted a survey in October 2019 with a group of 11-16 year-olds in the United Kingdom acting as respondents. They were asked about their gambling activities, and some of the results were alarming to say the least….

  • 11% of those surveyed has spent their own money on gambling in the week prior to the question
  • 4% had played on a fruit machine or online slots in the preceding week
  • 1.7% were classified as having a gambling problem

As worrying was the finding that 69% of the 11-16 year-olds surveyed had either seen or heard gambling adverts online or on TV, or through sports sponsorships – with 17% of the group confirming it had then prompted them to gamble further.

And that is something that the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) is hoping to tackle with its new industry-wide strategy to prevent gambling-related harm to minors.

Driving Up Standards

Code of Conduct

It is difficult to completely blackout gambling ads from the roving eye of children and teenagers, but the BGC is ready to implement a number of standards that should help considerably.

The organisation, which represents a number of key bookmakers and betting operators, has released its own ‘Sixth Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising’ guidelines, which all of its members will adhere to from October 1 onwards.

Some of the initiatives will include only using paid ads on social media content aimed at 25-year-olds and over, unless the website can show that it caters exclusively for those aged 18 and over.

All gambling adverts that appear in search engines must have a ‘adults only’ style caveat to them and must display the safer gambling message, while only YouTube users who have verified their age as 18+ will be able to see betting ads before and during their videos.

The BGC will also tell its member brands to post more frequent safer gambling messages on their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

The chief executive of the BGC, Michael Dugher, was unanimous in his belief that the new guidelines will make a considerably positive impact: “As the new standards body for the regulated sector, we are committed to driving up standards within the betting and gaming industry.

“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 work of the BGC should work hand-in-hand with that of the Advertising Standards Association (ASA), who have increased their efforts to introduce more age-sensitive advertising.

The government is also pressing on with their own sweeping changes to advertising regulation, and it has been reported that any ads featuring fatty, sugary and salty foods such as butter, sausage rolls and tomato sauce will be banned before the watershed to tackle the UK’s obesity problem.

And the Remote Gambling Association (RGA), which features Paddy Power, Betfair and bet365, has also agreed that betting ads won’t be televised during live football matches that start and finish before 9pm.

Gaming ‘Loot Boxes’ Also Set to be Scrapped?

Loot Boxes

It’s not just traditional forms of betting that are entrapping children under the spell of gambling.

Many computer games these days feature ‘loot boxes’, which entice kids to essentially gamble on the possibility of scoring upgrades and new features in their gaming. The most prominent example comes in FIFA’s ‘Ultimate Team’ game mode, in which packs of players can be purchased in the hope that a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘earned’.

Scientists have termed the implementation of loot boxes as a ‘compulsion loop’, which is an activity that creates a neurological ‘reward’ in the individual’s brain, resulting in the release of dopamine – the same as gambling addicts who get their hit from betting on sports or the roulette wheel.

The government is considering reclassifying loot boxes as gambling, which would of course mean that under-18s would be banned from accessing them.