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What does gambling law require?

Gambling operators selling into the British market must have a Gambling Commission licence to transact with, and advertise to, British consumers. The Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice require operators to comply with the Advertising Codes, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The Codes aim to ensure that gambling adverts do not:

  • portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.
  • exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of children, young persons or other vulnerable persons.
  • suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial concerns.
  • link gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness.
  • be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.
  • feature anyone gambling or playing a significant role in an advert if they are under 25 years old (or appear to be under 25).

Adverts that breach the Codes have to be amended or withdrawn. If serious or repeated breaches occur, the ASA can refer advertisers to the Gambling Commission and broadcasters to Ofcom.

Concerns about advertising

Gambling advertising has increased substantially since the Gambling Act 2005 came into force. This has led to concerns about the impact of advertising on children, young people, and vulnerable adults.

The relationship between gambling and sport has come under particular scrutiny. In a December 2023 report, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended that the Government should work with the Premier League and the governing bodies of other sports to reduce the volume of gambling adverts in sportsgrounds. The Committee also said there was an “urgent need to better understand the effects of gambling advertising on the risk of harm”.

What is the gambling industry doing?

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) represents around 90% of the UK’s betting and gaming industry. Members of the BGC must comply with an Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (PDF)(September 2023). 

The gambling white paper (April 2023)

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a gambling white paper in April 2023. According to the white paper, there was “good evidence” that advertising could have a “disproportionate impact” on people who already had problems with their gambling. In addition, some forms of online advertising had a strong appeal to those under 18. While the white paper welcomed industry initiatives, it said these did not go far enough. It therefore set out proposals for:

  • the Gambling Commission to review incentives such as free bets and bonuses to ensure they are constructed and targeted in a socially responsible manner.
  • the Commission to continue to monitor practices around online VIP schemes to make sure they are not used to exploit at-risk gamblers.
  • the Commission to work to strengthen consent for direct marketing for online gambling, with new and existing customers given more choice on what offers they want (including requiring consent to ‘cross-selling’ new products) and how marketing is sent to them.
  • DCMS to work with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Gambling Commission to develop a new, evidence-based model for independently developed safer gambling messages.

In November 2023, the Gambling Commission published a consultation on bonus offers, free bets, and other incentives to gamble to make sure they do not encourage harmful or excessive gambling. The consultation closed on 21 February 2024.

A July 2023 consultation sought views on giving customers more control over the direct gambling marketing they wish to receive. The consultation closed on 18 October 2023. The Commission has not yet published responses to either consultation.

For discussion of the white paper, see:

 


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