This week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introduced a new service through which members of the public could warn the watchdog regarding ads that make ‘misleading, dangerous or reckless statements about the current coronavirus or ‘COVID-19 ‘situation.’
At the same time, the ASA released a notice on ‘the conduct of the online gambling industry, including the nature and frequency of its advertising.’ The watchdog argued that imposed self-isolation by the nation has created a ‘captive audience’ that might see gambling as an escape from the situation they are now in.
Consequently, the ASA warns gambling operators against any ads that “refer to the COVID-19 crisis or related concerns, such as the government’s lockdown policy; and/or include claims or themes that are of particular concern in the current climate (e.g. ads that refer to relieving boredom, repeated play or personal problems such as family problems).”
The ASA said advertisements of this sort would, under ordinary circumstances, bring down its ban-hammer, but “the present circumstances exacerbate this, and the ASA will not hesitate to take firm action against irresponsible messaging.” The ASA did not give clear examples, which would presumably include the tweet released and then quickly deleted late last month by bookmaker William Hill flaunting one “pro of online casino: you can play in your pyjamas.”
The ASA will collaborate with the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) to “identify issues and enforce compliance.” UKGC has given several alerts to its online licensees about upholding standards during the pandemic and has previously shown its willingness to hit operators with significant financial penalties and/or licence suspensions for falling short on the enforcement front.
Last week the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) formally took over Senet Group’s assets and obligations, which were established by high-street bookies in 2014 but gradually expanded to include online operators. The When the Fun Stops, Stop player messaging programme, to which we might add ‘and don’t mention the war and/or virus,’ is among the obligations that now fall under the remit of the BGC.