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UKGC emphasises need for industry to step up marketing strategy

Highlighting that the UK gambling sector needs to heed warnings over advertising and marketing, Gambling Commission programme director Ian Angus singled out affiliate promotions as a key example of where the industry can improve.

Speaking at a Responsible Marketing for Gambling Operators Conference in London, Angus emphasised the importance of “a proper and constructive debate about gambling marketing and advertising, including sponsorship arrangements in sport”.

He was keen to point out that industry needs to make progress in the way that it promotes free bets and bonuses: “The advertising of free bets and bonuses is a good example. Well established advertising rules, drawn down from consumer law, make clear that marketing promotions must not mislead, the industry was warned, time and time again, about misleading marketing practices but failed to act.

“It should never have taken a series of ASA rulings, a million pounds worth of financial penalties from the Commission and a major investigation, followed by enforcement action, by the Competition & Markets Authority, to secure sector-wide compliance. It’s done incalculable damage to the industry’s reputation and it could, and should, have been avoided.”

He went onto highlight an incident in 2017, where the industry was also forced to take urgent measures to shore up its affiliate programmes, Angus recalled: “A joint piece of work between the Commission and the ASA culminated in a series of high-profile ASA rulings which banned some of the most appalling ‘adverts’ I have ever seen. Framed in ‘advertorial’ style, they all reported on apparent gambling successes and included text that laid out a fictional story of someone who overcame personal problems with gambling.”

Angus’ recommendations come as Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson mapped out the party’s policies on heightening gambling marketing restrictions, aiming to replicate the ‘whistle-to-whistle advertising ban’, introduced in Australia at the start of 2018, prohibiting all promotion of betting-related content during the broadcasts of live sporting events.

He added: “At a time when consumer trust in gambling is at an all time low, it would be unwise for industry to ignore the hardening public and political mood around advertising.

“For some, it’s a moral reaction; for others it’s an irritant (stop bombarding me with gambling ads!); but for many, including a growing number of researchers and academics, it reflects a genuine concern about the unknown impacts of children’s exposure to gambling advertising and sport sponsorship.”

“It’s difficult to see how the “as is” scenario is sustainable. Parliamentary questions on advertising are tabled almost weekly, media headlines scream about irresponsible marketing practices, and prominent politicians, from across the political divide, are calling for drastic measures to reduce children’s exposure.”

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