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What can be done about gambling advertising to children?

Teenage boys in front of laptops

Children are being targeted by online gambling ads. As Parent Zone recently reported, 70 different gambling ads appeared in the last quarter on 34 websites and five YouTube channels aimed mainly at children.

The Advertising Standards Authority, which released the figures, has – unhelpfully for parents – declined to name the culprits. 

There is no excuse for targeting gambling ads at children. The advertising code forbids the advertising of gambling to under-18s. Almost all forms of gambling are illegal for this age group, so they should not be a target audience. 

Gambling ads clearly aren’t reaching children accidentally. As the ASA points out, advertisers and platforms alike have access to sophisticated screening tools. Advertising online is an ever-more-accurately targeted activity.

In fact, as Professor Agnes Nairn explains on Parent Zone, online gambling advertising is often designed to be particularly appealing to children. On Twitter, many of the gambling operators’ activities are funny; they feature highly shareable gifs. Professor Nairn’s research found that 17% of followers of gambling accounts on Twitter are under 16. And nearly one-third of those who actively engage with gambling accounts – replying and retweeting – are children.

This barrage of online advertising comes on top of children’s far greater exposure to gambling ads on mainstream media than a generation ago. According to research for GambleAware by a consortium of British universities and IPSOS Mori, gambling advertising on all media excluding social media increased by 25% between 2015 and 2018. 

That research concluded that there is plenty of evidence that the more gambling is normalised, the more likely people are to become problem gamblers. 

As with most products, the relationship between advertising and gambling is complex. But IPSOS Mori’s research summary concluded that “gambling advertising had either a direct impact on immediate behaviour, or a more indirect impact on emotional responses that can help shape attitudes to and associations with gambling… for young people who did not currently gamble, exposure to advertising was significantly associated with likelihood to gamble in the future.” 

So what can be done?

First, it’s good that the ASA is monitoring gambling advertising to children. But there may be a limit to how much it can do. Most eSports companies are based offshore. The Social Market Foundation think tank has argued that gambling companies operating in Britain should be required to have a base here, since so many pay very little tax. Parent Zone would support this, not only for the tax implications, but also because it would bring gambling operators further under UK jurisdiction.

Clear penalties should be imposed on companies that fail to comply with advertising regulations. They should be named and shamed. Lawmakers need to look at whether further regulations – or indeed new regulations – are necessary.

Action should be taken to reduce children’s exposure to gambling advertising. Ads should certainly not be designed to be particularly appealing to children. Current regulations are clearly not working in this respect: gambling ads emphasise fun and escapism and winning and there is evidence that around half of children and young people are not even aware that gambling is illegal for under-18s.

In the meantime, there is a need for better education. This must involve parents because parental attitudes are one of the key variables in whether a young person gambles. 

Parents need to encourage children to notice gambling ads and tell them when they see them – and they should report them to the ASA.

They also need to talk to children about gambling advertising and its effects both immediately and in the longer term, in building brand loyalty. 

Gambling can be a legitimate leisure activity for many people. But gambling advertisers use a range of techniques to associate gambling exclusively with pleasure and glamour and to suggest that it comes without downsides. Children need to be equipped to approach these messages with a large dose of scepticism.

For more information about helping young people understand the risks of gambling, visit Parent Zone’s Know the Stakes hub. It’s produced in partnership with GambleAware and includes a resource pack for parents, carers and professionals.

Image: Klaus Eppele/stock.adobe.com


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