Is the UK set to regulate gambling advertisements?

With the government now considering introducing new measures, we take a closer look at the issue and ask how more stringent regulations will impact on the industry in the UK?

What the numbers tell us
The report, commissioned by reporters for BBC Two, revealed that a staggering 95% of breaks during live football matches contained at least one gambling ad. This was due to the way in which operators were able to circumnavigate the 21:00 watershed for sponsored gambling messages, as there currently remains an exception for live sporting events.

Not only this, but the report also analysed the breaks before, during and after a total of 25 British football matches shown on Sky Sports, BT Sport and ITV. Incredibly, 272 out of just 1,324 commercials (20.5%) were aired by gambling operators.

While brands have suggested that these commercials have a limited impact on participation rates in comparison with online ads, this has not stopped the government and UK regulatory bodies from appraising the data to determine whether or not new measures may be required to help to protect vulnerable individuals and promote the virtues of responsible gambling.

What action will regulators take?
If we compare this development with the state of affairs that is unfolding in Belgium, we see a clear and undeniable similarity. Belgian's ministers are not only proposing the introduction of an earlier watershed (20:00), for example, but they are also suggesting that this should be applied to live sporting events. The main purpose of this is to prevent operators from potentially targeting vulnerable individuals with live, in-play betting opportunities, which is a significant source of income from brands as they look to leverage the sense of impulse generated during a live sporting event.

It is likely that regulators will assume a similarly tough stance in the UK, as they continue to encourage socially responsible advertising practices among gambling brands. So although the watershed is unlikely to be changed, this will most likely be extended to include live sports events  across all major channels.
The ASA have also indicated that, should these regulations be implemented and subsequently breached, brands could face significant sanctions that hit various aspects of their operation. Regulators could remove paid ads placed on search engines, for example, while the removal of trading privileges will be reserved for the most serious offenders.

The last word
There is no doubt that the online gambling industry is under increased scrutiny at present, with the ASA already targeting operators that have published images deemed to be appealing to minors. This means that more stringent advertising regulations are inevitable for brands in the UK, with live sporting events a particular area of focus.

Ultimately, this should not be too damaging for brands, who tend to produce their most effective and generative advertising online. Similarly, the leading operators are already positioning themselves as ambassadors for responsible gambling, so the latest developments offers them a further opportunity to enhance their reputations.
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