The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has identified a number of gambling operators which have breached stringent advertising rules after using ‘child avatars’.

The investigation, carried out over a two week period in 2018, identified 43 different gambling operators that displayed advertisements across websites geared towards under-18s. It collected information on the 10,754 times when ads were served to the avatars.

Five of those gambling operators, NetEnt Product Ltd (Vikings Video Slot), Evoke Gaming Ltd (RedBet), Multilotto UK Ltd, Platinum Gaming Ltd (Unibet) and Skill On Net Ltd (PlayOjo), were found to be in contravention of strict advertising rules set out by the ASA which prohibits gambling ads being targeted towards minors.

It marks a new era in ASA policy where technology plays a vital role in the identification of adverts. The new approach is part of wider efforts to ensure action can be taken against irresponsible ads without the need for members of the public to raise a complaint.

Advertisements were displayed to the avatars across eleven of the websites monitored by the ASA, with the avatars being able to view 23 individual gambling adverts. These ads were viewed combined total of 151 times, accounting for 1.40% of the total ad impressions.

It was found that Vikings Video Slot was responsible for 81 per cent of the 151 ad impressions, with ten advertisements viewed 122 times.

ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker said: “Online ads are subject to the same strict rules that apply elsewhere and this important new monitoring capability delivers on our commitment to having more impact online.   

“It’s already allowed us to spot a problem with a small number of gambling operators and take quick and effective action to ensure children are protected from irresponsibly-targeted gambling ads.  

“We’re already looking at expanding this work, as well as exploring how other new technologies can help us protect the public.”

Following the investigation, all operators have since accepted responsibility for breaking advertising rules. Most of the cases reported by the ASA arose as a result of errors by third-party companies which had been hired to roll out campaigns on behalf of the operators.

The operators have been instructed by the regulator to address the issues by reviewing their online ads immediately, ensuring that they are not served to web users aged below 18 years of age through the selection of media or context in which they appear and to put in place measures to ensure this does not happen again.

The findings from the research offers a brief insight into the advertisements that children are seeing online. It also gives the ASA the opportunity to take speedy action to enforce the rules in respect of the small number of ads which are found to be targeted irresponsibly.