The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has sought the public’s help in policing gambling ads that use the current COVID-19 pandemic in their marketing. The advertising watchdog has promised that gambling firms caught doing so would face severe penalties.
According to the ASA, the online gambling industry’s advertising policies are under strict scrutiny, especially since the widespread lockdowns meant to curtail the coronavirus’ spread has created a captive audience to their marketing tactics. Because many people are stuck at home, scared and facing financial struggles, gambling ads may seek to present gambling as an escape, appealing to vulnerable individuals.
The national lockdown enforced in the UK has compelled the ASA to scrutinize all mentions of COVID-19 in ads, generally for healthcare products. Members of the public are encouraged to report ads that refer to any aspect of the current COVID-19 crisis, including any themes related to the lockdown, such as boredom or personal hardships.
The ASA’s efforts mirrors the industry standards set by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC)—a consortium of gambling firms who rolled out a 10-point plan that emphasizes responsible gambling ads that do not refer to the COVID-19 crisis in any way.
However, anti-gambling advocates have dismissed the industry’s response, characterizing it as tepid. The Gambling Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group has continued to call for stricter regulation from public authorities, such as the ASA.
The ASA has stated that gambling ads must comply with the same standards during normal periods, but current circumstances necessitate an even stricter approach to any violations of their advertising policies.
GC to Partner with ASA
Joining the ASA in their fight against irresponsible gambling ads is the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), who will help the ASA identify the most pressing concerns and enforce their rules.
The ASA is currently monitoring advertising for all industries for what they deem to be irresponsible references to the COVID-19 pandemic to entice consumers. According to the ASA, a key point of focus are gambling ads that seek to normalize repetitive gameplay, offer gambling as an escape from real world problems, and those that seek to alleviate boredom caused by lockdowns.
The ASA is also committed to their mandate of preventing gambling firms from advertising to children. Last year, the ASA made use of avatar technology to evaluate ads targeted to simulations of children’s browsing profiles. This strategy is also being followed in 2020.