Gambling Firms Meeting To Discuss A Voluntary Reduction In TV Advertising

With responsible gambling playing an ever-greater role in the conversation surrounding online gambling, regulators in the UK have been keen to show that they are committed to promoting responsible gambling – and some of the biggest betting companies, including Betfred, Ladbrokes and William Hill are set to discuss new proposals on Tuesday, as part of the RGA’s move towards changing how companies advertise on TV.

Sky News reported that the Remote Gambling Association (RGA) is set to meet to discuss the advertising code to which they are supposed to adhere to – and some of the member of the RGA include Bet365, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, and William Hill. During the meeting, the firms are expected to talk about a number of voluntary curbs on gambling-related advertising, at a time when political pressure is at an all-time high to eradicate the ‘gambling epidemic’ that’s sweeping the UK.

The RGA meets yearly to discuss operator’s advertising activities, and Tuesday’s agenda is said to discuss “the most rigorous set of measures to restrict television ads ever considered by the gaming industry” – a move that will likely please politicians and the Gambling Commission.

While specific details surrounding the new proposals are scarce, there are a few indications of what’s to be discussed – and one of the biggest, is the blanket ban on pre-watershed advertising by gambling companies.

This, in fairness, appears to be a fairly common-sense rule – and it does seem hard to believe that, at present, gambling firms can advertise on television before the watershed.

Another proposal – which is likely to have complicated stipulations – is a restriction to limit the number of gambling-related ads to one per commercial break – something that’s going to wreak havoc when it comes to deciding which company gets the slot. Whether this will be decided by monetary bidding, or some other kind of scheme remains to be seen – but it’s likely we’ll see operators ‘fighting amongst themselves’ to be able to run their ad.

Another proposal – and one that is likely to attract opposition from operations – is banning ‘in-play’ ads during the live airing of football matches and other sports event. At the time of writing, in-play commercials are commonplace, the companies work on a ‘real time’ basis to offer those watching tv specific bets, which are priced dependant on the progress of the match so far.

Sky News reports that:

“Sources said that the RGA board meeting was unlikely to deliver a consensus among the body’s roughly 35 members, and would require further consultation before recommendations are made to the group that polices the industry’s voluntary advertising code.”

Whether the talks achieve traction or not remains to be seen; what is clear, is that even the biggest operators realize that something needs to be done – and awareness of the dangers of gambling is at an all-time high, particularly with the controversial fixed odds betting terminals debate continuing in the UK.

While ministers in the UK government had wanted clampdowns on the maximum stake allowed on FOBT’s to be slashed – next October – due to growing political and public pressure, the waiting period has now been slashed, with the new measures set to come in early next year.

The decision was the reason behind Tracey Crouch’s resignation as the sports minister (a move which was applauded by MP’s on all sides of the House of Commons) – and while FOBT’s are a different argument altogether, the issue of advertising has been becomming ever-more prominent.

The United Kingdom’s Gambling Commission has already begun to clamp down heavily on online advertising – and companies are now advised against using the terms ‘free spins’, when a player actually does need to make a deposit. Instead, operators are advised to use phrases like ‘extra spins’ and ‘bonus spins’. Similarly, the Commission started warning operators over displaying imagery which could appeal to younger people. A good example of this was with a NetEnt video slot – Jack and the Beanstalk. The imagery used in the slot (and the thumbnail of the game) was perceived by the Commission to be youthful-in nature – and for this reason, both operators and affiliates started removing the imagery to users who weren’t signed in, or hid it completely.

Surprisingly, some gambling companies have shared their support for new rules surrounding advertising curbs – and GVC, the owner of Ladbrokes stated last month that it fully-supported a ban on gambling advertisements before 9pm – the watershed.

However, Sky News went on to report:

“The company declined to move unilaterally, with people close to it insisting that it was right not to ‎do so on the grounds that it risked being put at a competitive disadvantage.”

Sky itself has also decided to put in place new measures to reduce the amount of gambling-related advertising it shows on its television channels, and they recently announced that from next summer, Sky TV commercials will feature a maximum of one gambling advert per commercial break.

These moves are likely to please the Gambling Commission – but whether they’re enough to prevent legal reform remains to be seen. It’s clear that operators are trying to ‘do the right thing’ before legislative changes are necessary – but it may well be too late. Only time will tell.

A final interesting development is that Sky also announced that they would be developing their ‘AdSmart’ technology to let customers block gambling ads when viewing TV on Sky and Virgin Media TV platforms, effective from June 2020. This is – we feel – a great step, as it allows consumers to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to view gambling-related adverts