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Government to extend review to include gambling adverts on TV

07 October 2016

The front page of The Times reports today that the government is to extend its review into Fixed Odds Betting Terminals to cover gambling advertisements on TV, amid concerns about the proliferation of gambling adverts and their exposure to children.

The calls come nine years after the Gambling Act was implemented in 2007 which saw the deregulation of the sector and opened the door to TV advertising for sports betting and online casinos. There has been a significant increase in the volume of gambling adverts on TV in the intervening nine years with Ofcom’s most recent figures showing an increase from 90,000 in 2005 to 1.4 million in 2012.

The article is correct to suggest that gambling adverts can be aired on national television using celebrities and before the 9pm watershed. However, it fails to highlight that there are strict regulatory controls in place which limit the extent to which such advertising can reach children as well as the broader regulations in relation to the content of gambling advertising which ensures that it remains responsible.

Like adverts for alcohol, under the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code), gambling adverts can be aired at any time providing that they are not broadcast “adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 16". It is the broadcaster's responsibility to ensure that the adverts they air are in line with UK advertising regulations. Part of that obligation requires them to use complex audience profiling methods to help correctly identify the audience profile for each programme it airs. In short, the rules prohibit programmes with an index of 120 and above from being broadcast alongside gambling adverts. Given the implications for broadcasters who would be found in breach of their license conditions, it’s relatively rare for this to be breached.

As well as scheduling restrictions, gambling companies must adhere to strict rules in relation to the content of their adverts. Generally this means ensuring that their adverts are socially responsible. Amongst other things, gambling adverts cannot, for example, encourage or condone behaviour that could lead to financial, social or emotional harm, exploit young or vulnerable persons, and suggest that gambling can enhance personal qualities or that it can provide an escape from personal problems.

In addition to the BCAP Code, the industry itself introduced additional safeguards when its Code for Socially Responsible Advertising in 2015 was updated in 2015. The latest edition includes provisions which supplement the BCAP Code which includes ensuring that gambling advertising pre-watershed doesn’t contain sign-up offers or appear alongside none-sport event programmes.

In its most recent review of gambling advertising in 2014, the Committee of Advertising Practice acknowledged that, like alcohol, gambling is an emotive issue and that there will always be a debate about its place in society. However, as long as UK law recognises gambling as a legitimate leisure activity, it will continue to be advertised. It’s review concludes that current controls are proportionate and strike the right balance between gambling companies' rights to legally advertise their products whilst ensuring that UK consumers, and in particular children, are afforded the correct level of protection from harm. This position should be attributed in part to the industry’s willingness to be proactive in ensuring the adverts it airs on television remain socially responsible.

For more information, please contact Brinsley Dresden.

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