ASA watchdog rules against four online sportsbetting firms

In the United Kingdom, four online sportsbetting firms could soon reportedly face stiff fines from the Gambling Commission regulator after being found guilty by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) watchdog of running advertisements on their websites that “targeted vulnerable people”.

According to a report from The Guardian newspaper, the ASA ruled that operators 888 UK Limited, Bonne Terre Limited, Casumo Services Limited and Ladbrokes Betting and Gaming Limited had permitted affiliates to place the advertisements, which were disguised as genuine news articles, in breach of the non-broadcast advertising code.

The newspaper reported that the in-breach advertisement placed on Bonne Terre Limited’s, which was subsequently reused by rivals, and featuring a similar narrative, had referred to a punter named “William” that had allegedly cleared debts of around $172,000 and paid “out of pocket for his wife’s cancer-related medical bills their insurance wouldn’t cover”.

“William took to Facebook one night in the hospital lobby to update his friends and family on his wife’s health,” reportedly read the infringing advertisement. “A little tired and admittedly a bit repressed, William stumbled upon an ad for Sky Vegas. With little to no money to spend he admits he laughed and almost scrolled past it until he saw they were offering a promotion that would reward him with £10 free at the Jackpot 7 game, which at over £700,000 was too hard to pass up.”

The Guardian reported that the contravening advertisement subsequently declared that “William” had won “over 30 times his annual salary in a single spin” before going on to add that “his debt and financial worries came to an abrupt end”.

The ASA reportedly ruled that the advertisement had been “socially irresponsible” because it had suggested that gambling “could provide an escape from personal problems such as depression and that it could be a solution to financial concerns”. The watchdog moreover found that the advert was in violation because it had given the incorrect impression that it was a genuine news article.

“We expect operators to take action to ensure that they have a clear view of what their affiliates are doing on their behalf,” read a statement from the Gambling Commission regulator, which reportedly declined to comment about the possibility of levying fines. “Where operators fail to do this, we will not hesitate to use our powers to hold them to account.”

Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the in-opposition Labour political party, recently called for a ban on the placing of gambling advertisements on football shirts and reportedly urged the Gambling Commission to “take strong action against the beneficiaries of these disgusting ads” so as to make sure “nothing like this can be allowed to happen again”.

“The disgraceful cynicism of these ads is breathtaking,” Watson reportedly told The Guardian. “While these ads were produced by an affiliate, they are ultimately the responsibility of the betting companies whose products they were selling.”

In response, Clive Hawkswood, Chief Executive for the Remote Gambling Association trade group reportedly told the newspaper that it was wrong to “tar all affiliates with the same brush” but that there had now been “too many examples of them acting in a way that is unacceptable”.

“Hopefully lessons will be learned but, if not, affiliates can expect to see operators reconsidering their relationships and the real prospect of direct regulatory action,” Hawkswood reportedly told The Guardian.

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