Is the ASA Being Over Protective on Gambling?

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For those that are not aware, The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1962, the last year has seen the ASA focus heavily on the gambling industry. A series of rulings against gambling operators has lead to accusation of the ASA being too heavy handed in its approach. The ASA's attempts at controlling gambling advertising has been criticised for what many have deemed can often go well beyond a common sense approach to gambling advertising.

First, let's make the point very clear that there is a gambling problem for many in the UK. According to the gambling addiction website, it is estimated that around 350,000 people are suffering from a gambling addiction. NHS statistics show that only 5 percent of people seek help and only 1 percent actually recieve treatment for their gambling troubles. Clearly there is a need for protection. However, how much protection?

ASA Heavy Handed

Last week, the ASA ruled against Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and betting giant William Hill (LON:WMH). Their crime? they tweeted a sponsored image featuring Harry Winks and Davinson Sanchez, who were both under 25 years of age. The ASA itself chose to investigate whether the tweet was irresponsible and breached the CAP Code which states that no one below the age of 25 is allowed to feature in marketing communications for a gambling brand, except in very specific circumstances.The ASA ruled against the ad, and ordered it not be used again in the form complained about.

Earlier this year, the ASA pulled a gambling ad that featured popular Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling. A fairly standard ad for a betting company, it told viewers what they could bet on. Stelling told viewers to “spark [their] sports brain” and asked, “How big is your sports noggin?”

The ASA stated:

“The ad gave an erroneous perception of the extent of a gambler’s control over betting success. This gave consumers an unrealistic and exaggerated perception of the level of control they would have over the outcome of a bet and that could lead to irresponsible gambling behaviour.”

Previously, the UK Advertising Standards Authority has banned adverts for suggesting that a good knowledge of sports could benefit in sports betting. Camelot, the National Lottery operator, was forced to revise its ad placement process after a complaint against a scratchcard ad placed near a school gate was upheld.

ASA Protects

For balance, the ASA does some sterling work. As we saw with the recent ruling clearing BetFred of TV ad wrongdoing they don't uphold every complaint made. Its stringent eye over the gambling advertising world DOES protect against misleading ads and provide safeguards for children and problem gamblers. However, does it go to far?

With regulation only a few months old, we are still seeing the dust settle and brands acclimatising to the new conditions the ASA are enforcing. Early indications are quite damaging for the betting operators. 18 percent of those surveyed in a Harris Interactive poll, said they would stop betting if betting ads are banned during live events. For the betting operators that employ tens of thousands of UK workers, such a downturn in revenue will not go without costs being cut or revenues squeezed elsewhere.

At the moment, the ASA is taking quite a heavy handed approach to gambling ads. It's not so much take a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but it could well be described as using a mallet.

As we have seen with the recent clampdown on the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), where maximum stakes were reduced from £100 to £2, the spotlight is very much on the gambling industry as a whole. Betting brands and how they market their services have never been under so much scrutiny. The hope is that both the ASA and the betting operators will work a bit more closer together to ensure a workable code of practice is established.

First and foremost public protection is key, but the ASA and indeed the UKGC (The UK gambling commission), need to be careful as to not over regulate the industry to the point where their policies and actions stifle a very lucrative industry.

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