Online betting firms, 888, Sky Vegas, Ladbrokes and Casumo have breached advertising standards with their advertorials that have been dubbed ‘fake news.’
Self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), received a total of nine complaints owing to online advertisements that targeted vulnerable people. The adverts created a narrative that suggested that gambling could provide escapism from problems such as depression and could potentially solve financial concerns.
Disguised as news articles, the advertisements appeared on the casinohacks and 24hournews websites which have a reputation for providing fake news commonly used to host affiliate links. The four adverts all utilised the same characterisation and story, replacing the brand name for each of the involved bookmakers, with the main culprit appearing to be Sky Vegas.
A false narrative
One ad told the story of ‘William’ who was apparently £130,000 in debt having being forced to sell his house to pay his wife’s cancer related medical bills which he could not afford.
The story goes on to describe how William logged in to Facebook feeling “A little tired and admittedly a bit repressed” before discovering an ad for Sky Vegas. A direct quote from the advertisement describes how William was lured by a promotion: “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 narrative ended with William winning “over 30 times his annual salary in a single spin” before adding that “his debt and financial worries came to an abrupt end.” The article was posted under the title “On Their Wedding Night He Delivered a Secret She Wasn’t Ready For. The Result Will Have You In Tears.”
In response to the criticisms, Ladbrokes, Sky Vegas, 888 and Casumo all claimed that the ads in question had not been approved and had been generated by affiliates – anonymous agents paid to direct gamblers to online casinos and bookmakers.
888 stated that it had terminated its agreement with the affiliate who had supplied the advertisement, Sky Vegas also stated that it was unaware of the advert and since then had ended the affiliate contract as well as its entire affiliate programme. Casumo shifted the blame to an external “media buyer.”
A spokesperson for Ladbrokes expressed their disappointment at the adverts and detailed the actions that they will take to monitor work prepared by affiliates: “Nobody in Ladbrokes Coral believes that this sort of ‘fake news’ marketing has a place in the sector. We have been reducing the number of affiliates we work with as well as clamping down hard on anyone using our name without our knowledge in a bid to curtail this sort of activity going forward.”
ASA held the companies responsible due to the brands benefiting from the offensive adverts. ASA also ruled that the adverts were in breach of the UK non-broadcast advertising code due to the inferences that gambling could provide escapism and solve financial concerns. In addition to this, ASA concluded that the adverts incorrectly gave the impression that they were genuine news articles.
The advertisements’ aftermath
Following the ruling, ASA expressed that “The ad must not appear in its current form” and advised each company that all future ads included those created by affiliates “must be clearly identifiable as marketing communications and to take care to ensure their ads were prepared in a socially responsible way.”
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson MP, who recently opposed gambling adverts on football shirts, slammed the ads and declared each of the brands accountable despite the involvement of affiliates.
Tom Watson also branded the ads ‘disgusting’ stating that: “The Gambling Commission needs to take strong action against the beneficiaries of these disgusting ads, to make clear that nothing like this can be allowed to happen again.”
Known for previously fining BGO and Lottoland over misleading adverts including adverts prepared by affiliates, it is yet to be made clear whether the Commission will financially penalise 888, Casumo, Ladbrokes and Sky Vegas.
Keen to avoid stigmatising all affiliates, Clive Hawkswood, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association said: “It would be wrong to tar all affiliates with the same brush but there are now 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.”
With ever tightening restrictions surrounding gambling, many operators strive to uphold regulations keeping careful control of all affiliate communications and avoiding the usage of advertorial style marketing. It is hoped that this latest trouble within the industry will serve as an example to anyone considering misleading advertisements.