The industry has truly turned over a new leaf! Online bingo sites and casinos are being slapped with fines from the left, right and center. Most recently, GVC, the team behind Foxy Bingo was fined an eye-watering sum of £350,000 for misleading ads. Naturally, we wondered what phrase had infuriated the advertising watchdog. It was “free bets”. This particular phrase has been a mainstay of all gambling advertisements, so the ban against it marks a truly different era! The UK Gambling Commission and all other consumer action firms have really upped their game in consumer protection.
Foxy Bingo’s Fall
The Foxy Bingo advert was fined for repeatedly promoting ambiguous offers for free bets. Its online advertisement offered to match any deposit of up to £30 for free; yet a consumer complained that he had to wager £102 before the matched bonus was released. Gambling Commission discovered six more similar breaches and fined the the operating firm, GVC sharply. The firm has since withdrawn all of its advertisements and ensured that all its offers have complied with the rules.
No More Ambiguous Bonuses With Strings Attached!
CAP explained that the majority of complaints received from gambling adverts relate to players being forced to deposit before redeeming the free bet, or wager more before they can withdraw their winnings. Hence, all free bet and bonus offers must now state the terms and conditions prominently. These include eligibility requirements (e.g. minimum deposit/stake), wagering requirements (the number of times they must wager the free bet before they are allowed to withdraw any winnings) as well as restricted odds. No more size 6 font at the bottom of the TV screen!
The largest impact on consumer satisfaction comes in bonus reform. Effective immediately, any money-back offers must also be made in cash and not bonuses. These were the most significant condition that affected a customer’s understanding of the promotion. Any failure will lead to sanction by the Advertising Standards Association and the UK Gambling Commission.
“Bet Now” Adverts Also Banned
The Committee of Advertising Practice, which writes advertising advertising rules, will also restrict adverts during live events. Last year, a BBC investigation revealed that gambling adverts feature in 95 per cent of advertising breaks during football matches. These timely ads telling customers to “bet now” poses significant risk to vulnerable problem gamblers. As they say, these ads create an “inappropriate sense of urgency.”
Another irresponsible phrase that has been restricted is “risk free” deposits. Phrases such as these encourage repetitive play and give an irresponsible perception of the risk involved in gambling. Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, said: “We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eye-catching free bet and bonus offers.”
Finally, the new restrictions also include a clause around using money-motives for gambling. Advertisers can no longer play on consumer’s financial worries or self-esteem, or even lure customers in with big jackpot wins. The world has truly changed and it’ll be interesting to see what new advertising angles the industry uses next.
Gambling advertising in the UK was liberalized not too long ago in 2005. Despite the explosive growth in adverts on our screens, CAP found in its research that advertising does not play a causal or significant role in problem gambling. Problem gambling rates have in fact remained relatively stable during a period of considerable growth in advertising volumes. Despite the small impact on problem gambling, there are risks that advertising causes people to behave irresponsibly.
Do you think the current action goes far enough? An editorial by The Times newspaper argues that the committee should ban all advertisements before 9pm, in order to protect youth and children. After all, the cigarette industry banned all advertisements on TV and radio in 1971! Phrases like “low tar” and “light” cigarettes were banned in 2006. Other industries have made even bolder moves; should gambling move in the same direction? Let us know what you think in the comments below!