Don’t Gamble on Bingo Ads, Warns ASA
The ASA has issued a reminder to advertisers that bingo adverts will be treated as gambling ads for the purpose of standards regulation. While many may be unsurprised by that definition – particularly given the ongoing drive to characterise “loot box” purchases within video games as a legal form of gambling – the ASA evidently felt that there was a need to remind advertisers of their responsibilities in that sphere. So what do the ASA codes say about gambling, and what are their concerns?
The ASA codes for advertising (broadcast and non-broadcast) seek to prevent gambling adverts from targeting or exploiting those who may be vulnerable to irresponsible or problematic gambling. The particular focus is on restricting the promotion of gambling to minors and discouraging any perception of gambling as a solution to financial problems, and it is these two areas where the ASA has identified concerns relating to bingo adverts.
The ASA’s concerns
The ASA’s update placed particular importance on ensuring that bingo was not portrayed as an avenue to alleviate hardship, whether financial or otherwise. It is a trite point in advertising regulation that gambling adverts – perhaps more typically thought of in a sporting or casino context – shouldn’t suggest that the product in question can help a user escape debts or supplement their income. Clearly, the ASA are concerned that this standard is not being applied rigorously enough to bingo adverts, citing a recent instance of a bingo ad making reference to a person’s substantial debts, as well as a ban placed on the trading name ‘rehab bingo.’ Advertisers should be conscious that the ASA will treat a bingo advert equivalently to a traditional gambling provider and consider its intended content in that light.
The regulator also showed concern relating to the targeting of bingo ads at minors, referring to the placement of an advert on an app used by children. It stands as a further example of the need to take care when placing adverts, particularly through an external agency. The context of the advert’s location – i.e. the typical user, reader or viewership of the media to which it is attached - is just as relevant as its content. These factors are not always taken into account, particularly where online traffic algorithms are used to determine placement, but failure to consider them may invite action and censorship from the ASA.
Other points to note from the update
The ASA also reminded readers of the need to include significant conditions of promotional offers – in this case in a gambling context – within adverts. In particular, they reiterated their stance that using a format with limited space (such as a text message) is not sufficient to excuse a failure to include material conditions. The rationale can be assumed to extend to other areas, such as competitions run by radio and television broadcasts – the brevity of an advert for the competition will not excuse a failure to note any significant proviso to entering or winning.
An eye on the future
As mentioned above, there is a growing campaign to see internal purchases in video games which lack a guaranteed outcome – so-called “loot boxes” which typically cost a fixed price and return a randomised reward of varying quality – characterised as gambling under UK law. As yet, the Gambling Act 2005 does not cover loot boxes, but the government’s review of gambling legislation is ongoing and, following strong recommendations from a House of Lords select committee last year, bringing loot boxes under that act’s remit is sure to be on the agenda.
The ASA’s code borrows the Gambling Act’s definition of gambling. If these in-game purchases are brought under its remit, advertisers will need to take extreme care in respect of those games which heavily feature them. Many of the natural avenues for advertising video games are intended to target young audiences. It remains to be seen how the authority would treat such adverts if the games featured therein included activity which is formally defined as gambling.