In the UK, ads with gambling messages will soon disappear on websites and video games which are popular with children or teenagers.
Under the new rules announced on Wednesday, gambling ads will not be shown on select media where children or young people make up more than 25 percent of viewers or users. There will also be a ban on such ads featuring anyone under 18 years old, or any celebrities who even appear to be under 25 if gambling is being promoted.
Tightening the Reins
The new directive goes into effect on April I, and follows a similar ban in Australia on gambling ads during daytime and prime time viewing for many sports events on TV.
In response, a spokesperson for UK-based GambleAware — a nonprofit group dedicated to reducing problem gambling in Britain — told Casino.org it is “pleased to see these new advertising standards.”
The organization is concerned that gambling is becoming the norm for children, partly due to “the amount of … marketing to which they are unavoidably exposed.”
An estimated 55,000 out of all 11- to 16-year-olds in Britain are classified as problem gamblers, according to the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC).
When asked about the British initiative and possible similar moves in the US, Elizabeth Cronan — the American Gaming Association’s senior director of gaming policy — told Casino.org that the US industry group has made a priority of setting up “a high standard for responsible marketing.
“Last year, AGA updated its Code of Conduct for responsible gaming to include new advertising provisions to ensure casino and sports betting marketing is targeted to an age-appropriate demographic with tasteful content and reasonable frequency,” Cronan said.
There is increasing concern by gambling opponents that given the potential growth for American sports betting, kids soon may get exposed to ads for sports wagering that could be shown during major events, including the Super Bowl or the World Series.
Will US Follow Suit?
Given those potential issues, the new British rules are being praised by experts in North America. “It’s a very reasonable thing to do,” James Whelan — co-director of the University of Memphis' Institute of Gambling Education and Research — told Casino.org.
He points out that children and adolescents make a lot of their decisions based on social norms, and gambling ads on TV or elsewhere will influence those norms.
Also, brains are not fully developed in children, and these ads can shape the urges children have, Whelan said. He noted the US-based industry has discussed responsible gaming, but so far, no unified set of regulations have been enacted for the entire sector.
He believes it would be positive if the US imposed a ban — like the one in the UK — but the goal may remain elusive, because gambling is regulated in each state differently by their gaming commissions, who set their own unique regulatory guidelines.
Similarly, Jeffrey L. Derevensky, director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviors, based out of Montreal, Canada's McGill University, told Casino.org that such a ban is unlikely in the US because there is no single gambling oversight body, unlike in the UK or Europe.
Derevensky said the UK is “very proactive” about pushing back against gambling issues among its youth.
Appealing to the Easily Influenced
The UK ban will prevent ads that may appeal to kids, such as animated cartoon-type characters. Ads also can remind them of video games and actors they admire, while showing that gambling is fun. Some ads may include offers of free merchandise as well.
Derevensky explained the earlier someone starts to gamble, the more likely he or she will continue to and potentially exhibit problem behavior.
An estimated two million American adults exhibit pathological gambling tendencies, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Another four to six million are considered problem gamblers.
Other studies show some adult problem gamblers started when they were just nine or 10 years old, Derevensky said. Parents and teachers often remain unaware of children’s problem gambling habits, with some kids even receiving lottery tickets as gifts.
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