The UKGC has been very protective towards the influence of gambling advertisements over children and vulnerable adults, especially when it comes from online platforms. One code, in particular, the Industrial Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) has been an ethical guideline for operators since its first edition in 2007.
Measures like the inclusion responsible gambling messages in advertising and the 9:00 pm watershed were established in its pages. After recurrent spikes of online problem gambling, on October 1st 2020, the sixth edition of the code brought several amendments that will tighten the bolts of those who are not following the rules. One strike and you are out.
The IGRG CODE OVERVIEW
Since the enforcement of the 2005 Gambling Act regulating online gambling, the longstanding advertising restrictions over other gambling forms besides Bingo and National lottery were lifted. Also, advertisement of online bonuses not on Gamstop without deposit was prohibited. The amendment of the ruling created an increase of gambling participation from the younger and vulnerable part of the audience as the reach of gambling advertisement turned undiscriminating.
This led to the establishment of the code intended to put an ethical framework on which operators must adhere before developing and placing advertisements:
• They should comply with the CAP and BCAP rules;
• Advertisements must be legal and not misleading;
• advertisements and promotions should be socially responsible as described in the CAP and BCAP rules;
• Care must be taken not to exploit children and other vulnerable persons in relation to gambling activity; and advertisements should not be specifically and intentionally targeted towards people under the age of 18 through the selection of media, style of presentation, content or context in which they appear.
A final warning states “all advertisers and gambling operators should already be aware that it is an offence under Section 46 of the Gambling Act 2005 to invite a child or young person to gamble.”
The Relevance of Social Media
The importance of social media has exploded even before the Code’s first edition. With 3.7 Billion people worldwide using the platform, and users having an increasing average session of 2 hours and 24 minutes (compared to 1 hour in 2012), it has become the obvious choice for operators to target potential customers. But the added collateral of children, vulnerable adults and an increasing number of online problem gamblers in recovery, has led to the instalment of several amendments in continuous revisions to keep up protecting them.
Sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted for consumer aged 25+
One of the newer requirements established by the advertising code that sponsored/paid-for social media advertisements must be targeted for consumers aged 25+. This age cap must be certified by the licensees itself when data is sourced from third parties. This requirement relates solely to prospecting campaigns where the targeted audience is not already verified. But given improvements in identification technology, age gating systems in any social media platform can filter vulnerable underage public.
The requirement extends to organic YouTube content created and owned by operators, forcing them to make it only accessible for users who sign in and meet the age cap.
Operators must also exclude customers with an active self-exclusion, cool-off period and even those identified as a ‘higher risk’ customer, thereby enforcing much stricter Know Your Customer practices.
Finally, operators are obligated to use their social media pages to post frequent safer gambling-related information and take into account how active they become, to act accordingly
Lotteries become the exception to all these ruling as their age gating is only caped to 16+.
Interestingly, the age gating is likely to get reduced to 18+. However, is still under discussion and will depend exclusively on the discretion of the Betting and Gaming Council.
Promoting consumer awareness is mandatory
This Sixth edition recognizes that operators are well placed to provide consumers of the necessary steps to minimize their exposure to gambling advertising making this type of information accessible across social media platforms, and sufficiently prominent for users is now mandatory.
Search activity must exclude blacklisted keywords
Because search engines offer the ability to promote advertisements based on ‘keywords’ that match the consumer’s search queries online. It is now an obligation for operators to introduce an enhanced level of consumer protection This Sixth edition expands the scope of the IGRG Code by covering search advertising thanks to the inclusion of a shared blacklist of negative keywords.
This blacklist will include keywords which indicate vulnerability and those which can relate to children amongst others. The blacklist must also keep updated to ensure solid controls over the passage of time.
One last requirement states that any search advertisements must clearly contain 18+ messaging in the ad copy with safer gambling messaging. For lotteries, similar messaging targeted to 16+ consumers must appear.
Affiliate’s activity must follow the same social responsibility guidelines than operators
The Gambling Commission states clearly that operators will be held responsible for any marketing carried out by their affiliates. As such, operators are expected to ensure that all relevant Code requirements are also followed by their affiliate marketers. This new edition of the Code pursuits building more robust control based on this specific requirement. Meaning that:
All affiliates will 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 the identification of advertisements as such. To promote consistency, all relevant affiliate ads must be clearly and prominently marked ‘#ad’.
All relevant affiliates must share safer gambling related content on a regular basis, with frequency to be pre-determined with each individual operator with whom that affiliate has an agreement.
Pressure increases over affiliates as operators must now manage the compliance of affiliates by contractual obligation following the Code of Conduct and expected to terminate relationships following the first strike and you’re out rule.
The consequences from the liberal advertisement approach that operators still take its toll over the UK population. The continuous shift towards social media from traditional media will keep the UKGC and its affiliate regulatory organisms revising the IGRG code until operators step in to improve the responsibility in their advertisement practices by their own initiative. If they don’t prepare to make that step, they must get prepared to get kicked out of the industry.