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UK Gambling Commission Tightens Advertising Rules for Better Player Protection

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Taken a punt recently? Sat down at a fruit machine for a spin? Bought a lottery ticket or two? Whipped out your bet365 app or stepped into a casino? The UK is one of the most bet-friendly places on the planet. In fact, it is now a statistic that 63% of all people gambled at least once in the last year.

Gambling takes on many forms, and the UK is one such place where a lot of gambling activities are regulated rather than illegal, which makes the pastime more common practice and out in the open than other countries, where gambling is illegal, and so operations are shifted underground.

Because the gambling industry needs to be strictly regulated to protect consumers from schemes and scams, or get them hooked on addictive behaviours, this means that there needs to be overseeing bodies in place to regulate the industry, and rules in place (with steep consequences) to keep gambling companies in line.

The UK Gambling Commission and its Objectives

The UK Gambling Commission is one government body that takes its work very seriously. The Gambling Commission was assembled in 2005, after the Gambling Act outlined the role and authority of the Commission. The Commission’s authority was further enhanced in 2014, when the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act stipulated that operators conducting transactions with and/or advertising to UK citizens required a licence from the Commission itself.

The objectives of the commission are to ensure that gambling isn’t a source or support for criminal activities, ensuring all gambling operations are fair and open, and protecting children and problem-gamblers from gambling-related harm.

Recently, the Gambling Commission released their 2018-2019 Business Plan, the first yearly plan for a 3-year improvement cycle. Within the Business Plan, the Commission has outlined the following key metric: “Strengthen rules on advertising, unfair terms and practices, and complaints and disputes, subject to a consultation on Licence conditions and codes of practice (LCCP).” This is to be completed by Q2.

A Year Full of Action for the Commission

The Commission has been busy over the past year, too. While it was the Committees of Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standards Authority that put into place some new rules, the Commission leant their full support. These rules included removing urgency from advertising (e.g. “Bet Now”), advertising that reduced perceived risk (e.g. “Risk Free Deposit Bonus”), prevent emphasis on gambling for money (rather, it’s for fun), and more. The use of wording like “free spins” is out (but “extra spins” is okay), even though it’s important to understand the nuances of free spins and what that means.

Other missions throughout the year have included warning letters to operators where advertising is likely to appeal to those under the age of 18, increasing financial penalties for operators not complying with the regulations, ensuring online betters have direct access to 3 months’ worth of their logs, ensuring online betters are able to see their total deposits and set limits on both accounts as well as games. There was also plenty of action around transparency and fairness in sign-up promos like free bets and free spins – particularly to do with wording. Where terms are misleading or have too many conditions attached to confuse the customer, they are in the wrong, and will be dealt with accordingly.

Fines and Sanctions Over Advertising Breaches

As a result of the measures in place, there has been a steady stream of fines for operators, particularly some of the top dogs in the industry – and they haven’t just been peanuts, either. These are some notable fines that have been actioned along the way.

The first of the sanctions in the past year was for Health Lottery ELM Ltd, who were fined over the wording of a Facebook post in January by the ASA. While the lottery held 5 weekly draws, all up to a maximum of £100,000, the complainant noted that the draws hardly ever reached this amount and the wording that “Up to £500K can be won every week” was misleading as no one individual had ever won 5 draws in the week. The company were told to adjust any advertising.

ElectraWorks were then charged for advertising on their websites related to free bonuses. This was after a first warning by the ASA, a second warning, and then the Commission finding the same advertising on 6 sites, then again on another 2 sites. After all this fair warning, the company were fined £350,000.

Another notable recent advertising breach was that of LeoVegas. After investigation by the Commission it was found that there were a total of 41 misleading advertisements supplied by the operator, along with breaches relating to their handling of self-excluded customers. The combined total of the fines for the company was £600,000.

What’s next for the Commission?

The Commission isn’t done with all that, though. Some proposed regulation changes the Commission is recommending include:

  • Not allowing free demo games before age verification, along with strengthened age verification methods
  • Setting monetary limits on customer accounts before affordability checks have been run
  • Focusing on unacceptable marketing and advertising
  • Further support for problem gamblers

A headache for betting operators

It’s clear that the Commission is clamping down on advertising in a big way, especially for online casinos operators. This can be particularly difficult for betting operators to adhere to, especially when new missives are continuously being rolled out. Even more difficult is the onus of third party affiliates, some not even located in the UK trying to stay abreast of regulations and attempt to do everything within the law.

It’s enough to give betting operators a real headache, and makes it imperative that they have a clever, knowledgeable, domain and region-specific marketing team on board. The fines that companies can receive for advertising breaches certainly aren’t cheap. While it’s good to see the promotion of responsible gambling, it certainly isn’t easy for companies to police every piece of advertising out there, particularly if devised by a junior marketer who isn’t up to speed on regulations and their current state.

Guidance for the Other Side of the World

It’s going to be interesting to see how this scenario plays out over the other side of the world, too. Since PASPA was overturned in the US as being unconstitutional, this now opens up the US states to devise their own legislation surrounding sports betting, a practice mostly illegal throughout the US up until now.

If US states allow sports betting, does this mean that each state will have to set up their own rules and regulations, their own overarching bodies? Or will they get together and put in place a common set of regulations for operators to comply with? The latter sounds like a better solution for resource management, although the path is certainly far from clear.

What’s clear is the more that online gambling takes off, the more careful operators are going to have to be with their advertising efforts. The industry is regulated because it has the potential to take advantage of at-risk people – so we need to be doing as much as we can to try and prevent them from losing too much or getting sucked into something they didn’t realise the consequences of. Luckily that’s what the Commission is here for.

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