‘Sneaky’ social media ads are luring young into gambling, say campaigners | Gambling

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Tougher rules are required to crack down on betting firms’ use of “sneaky” social media postings and campaigns that may lure young people into gambling, warns a new report.

Researchers at Bristol University have reported a rise in gambling promotions that typically blur the line between advertising for a betting company and popular cultural references, from ET to Gladiator.

The research has found many children do not even recognise these promotions, known as content marketing, as advertising. It warns that this may lead to children following betting companies on social media, making it more likely that they sign up with them when they turn 18 and can legally gamble. Dr Raffaello Rossi, lecturer in marketing at Bristol University, one of the report’s authors, said content marketing was particularly popular with young people.

“All ages were quite bad at recognising it as advertising, but children and young people were much less able to distinguish it,” said Rossi. “It’s a sneaky way to get people engaged and create a positive perception towards gambling.”

Rossi said advertising rules stipulate that marketing communications “must be obviously identifiable as such”. He considered the social media postings were in breach of this rule.

The report recommends that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) consider a ban on gambling content marketing. An alternative would be that brands are mandated to include a prominent “this is gambling advertising” on promotional social media postings.

A previous report found five of the largest betting operators in the UK put up 19,100 posts on X, previously Twitter, in just eight months, or nearly 80 a day.

“Age-gating” measures to prevent children seeing ads and promotional social media posts are easily evaded, with research commissioned by the regulator Ofcom revealing in 2022 that a third of children aged between eight and 17 in the UK with a social media profile have an adult user age.

The research investigated whether content marketing was recognisable as advertising by more than 650 participants, aged from 11 to 78. It found young people were only able to correctly classify 43% of content marketing as advertising, compared with 65% of adults. Participants were told in advance that advertising is “the activity of making products or services known about and persuading people to buy them”.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, vice-chair of the all party parliamentary group for gambling-related harm, said: “The growth of so-called content marketing is deeply concerning as gambling companies seem to be circumnavigating advertising codes of practice.

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“If voluntary codes are clearly not working, steps must be taken to ban content marketing in its entirety to ensure children, who spend significant amounts of time online, are being protected.”

A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said: “Advertising must comply with strict guidelines and safer gambling messaging. The government has previously stated research did not establish a causal link between exposure to advertising and the development of problem gambling.

“Our members have also introduced new age-gating rules for advertising on social media platforms. BGC members take a zero-tolerance approach to betting by children. The most popular forms of betting by children are arcade games and fruit machines – not with BGC members.”

A spokesperson for CAP said: “We have an overriding commitment to ensure gambling advertising is responsible, and our rules place a particular emphasis on protecting young and vulnerable audiences from potential harm. We won’t hesitate to ban ads that break those rules, particularly when it comes to issues around targeting under-18s.”

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