Eyes down for compliant advertising!

Nick Arron of Poppleston Allen LLP takes us through bingo ads and the advertising codes.

Nick Arron

Summer is historically quieter from a regulatory perspective. The politicians are on holiday and, this summer, we have all been concentrating on operations, now we are open again and out of lockdown.

Earlier in the year I wrote about the Government Call for Evidence and Review of the Gambling Act 2005, and the potential changes which may result. We don’t expect to see any further developments until later into the year. When the proposed changes are published, they will be significant and subject to much discussion.

Over the summer the Gambling Commission has continued on the regulatory warpath, fining online bingo operator Daub Alderney £5.85 million for anti-money laundering and social responsibility failings. It is the second penalty in less than three years imposed by the Commission on Daub Alderney, which in part explains the high fine.

From a practical perspective, on 24th June 2021 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a feature on their website, “Eyes down for compliant advertising! Bingo ads and the Advertising Codes”: the focus of my piece for this issue of Bingo Connect.

Bingo products are treated no differently to any other gambling product when it comes to the Advertising Codes. They are subject to the Non-Broadcast Advertising Code (or CAP), being the rulebook for websites, sales promotions, direct marketing communications etc. There is then the Broadcast Advertising Code (or BCAP), which relates to television and radio. We also have to consider the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling Code for Socially Responsible Advertising, which was updated in September 2020 and is now in its 6th edition.

The ASA article reminded us that ads for bingo cannot suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal or professional problems, such as loneliness or depression. An ad for “Rehab Bingo” was banned by the ASA, as it considered that using the word “rehab” in the context of bingo suggested that the gambling was a form of rehabilitation that could be used to alleviate personal problems. This clearly was not the case.

The ASA article referenced advertising which suggests gambling can be used as a solution to financial concerns is a no-no and mentioned an ad for Gala Bingo placed by an affiliate, which included in the narrative a player with financial debts, with the ad suggesting that by playing he could have cleared those debts. The advert was banned.

We must ensure that bingo adverts are not directed at under 18s through the selection of media or context: an ad for Betfair Bingo was seen in “Looney Tunes World of Mayhem”, a smartphone musical cartoon application. Not an appropriate choice of location for a bingo advertisement. This can be a challenging area. Social media platforms are key marketing channels, and we have regular calls from clients with questions on their social media presence and their posts. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are often difficult entities to deal with, so big they are cumbersome and inconsistent. They are not all comfortable with gambling operations on their platforms and all have specific rules governing their relationship with gambling business users. Also, social media posts themselves can be so easily published without thorough consideration or process, leading to the potential for posts which breach the codes.

The advertising codes are extensive and detailed, and they are not just a matter for the ASA; they are also a consideration for the Gambling Commission. Social Responsibility Code provision of Operating Licences requires compliance with the codes, and compliance with the Industry Code is advised as best practice. Compliance with the codes is also a condition of membership of The Bingo Association, as reflected in their Code of Conduct.

The ASA article is a good reminder of the potential regulatory pitfalls of marketing and concludes with a notable reference to the ASA free copy advice service, which is worth considering when creating advertisements – visit www.asa.org.uk