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CAP bans footballers from appearing in UK gambling ads

| By Daniel O'Boyle
The UK’s Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) has issued new rules for gambling ads, banning anything of “strong appeal” to under-18s, including the use of top-flight footballers.

The rules will be added to the CAP Code, which all marketing communications must abide by, from 1 October.

Previously the rules stated that advertisements must not be of “particular appeal” to children or young persons. Under this definition, an ad could be banned if the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) judged that it appealed more to people under 18 than to adults.

However, the rules have been changed to now also ban ads that have a “strong appeal” to young people.

“Marketing communications/advertisements for gambling must not […] be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture,” the new code says.

This means that any ad that could be considered popular with young people may be banned, even if it is also popular with adults.

In particular, the CAP said that this means operators may no longer use “top-flight footballers and footballers with a considerable following among under-18 on social media”, or “sportspeople well-known to under-18s” in their ads.

In addition, “references to video game content and gameplay popular with under-18s” will also be banned. 

The CAP did note, however, that sports – particularly football – and esports could be said to have a strong appeal to children given “high rates of participation and engagement among under-18s”, and that a stricter reading of the rule could ban all marketing of betting on these sports.

As a result, it added that “this rule does not prevent the advertising of gambling products associated with activities that are themselves of strong appeal to under-18s (for instance, certain sports or playing video games)”.

Also unable to appear in ads are “stars from reality shows popular with under-18s”, with the CAP highlighting Love Island as an example.

“The days of gambling ads featuring sports stars, video game imagery and other content of strong appeal to under-18s are numbered,” CAP director Shahriar Coupal said. “By ending these practices, our new rules invite a new era for gambling ads, more particular to the adult audience they can target and more befitting of the age-restricted product they’re promoting.”

The new rules follows a consultation on how to ensure minors are protected from the effects of gambling advertising, which itself followed a report by GambleAware on the subject.

This consultation drew 27 responses, with some calling for much stronger rules, including an outright ban on gambling ads.

The responses included one from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC). The industry body noted its own efforts to reduce youth expose to gambling ads, such as the creation of an AdTech forum to work on technological solutions to the issue, as well as its members implementing a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling ads during live sport.

“Against this backdrop, CAP’s desire to move towards a more restrictive regulatory regime for an industry which, for the most part, is meeting and often exceeding the expected standard appears unnecessary,” it said.

The BGC added that the key change from existing rules would be around the use of sports and particularly sports personalities in gambling ads. The ban on the use of major sporting personalities, it said, would be “a step too far”.

“Betting is intrinsically linked to sports, sports have a universal global appeal,” the BGC said. “Any restriction on the use of a sports personality under the proposed strong appeal test would

therefore have a huge impact on gambling operators. The current particular appeal test and supporting guidance could continue to be effective in restricting advertising content. Restricting the consideration of appeal to solely an under 18 audience, with no reference to the same content’s appeal to an adult audience (as proposed in the strong appeal test), is a step too far.

“We perceive this lack of proportionality exists as: (a) it cannot be stated with certainty that the appeal of a particularly sports personality to a child or young person will affect their view of gambling; and (b) there are many ways in which ads can be targeted at audiences very effectively, but which may not qualify for the age-verification exemption given it’s ‘highly robust’ metrics.”

The BGC also said that it would appear that marketing betting on goalscorers would not fall under the exemption and would therefore be banned. In the final version of the rules though, the CAP clarified that these would be allowed “with text or audio references to a specific player alongside generic footballing imagery”, rather than a picture of the player.

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