On 5th April 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a ruling on "matched betting" with interesting implications for the gambling and advertising sectors.
Matched betting, as the ASA explained in this ruling, is a "technique whereby individuals bet on all outcomes of a certain event using free bets and incentives offered by bookmakers". These free bets are usually available for new customers (i.e. brand new accounts) as an incentive to register.
The ad appeared on a Save The Student webpage titled "Make money from Matched Betting (full guide)". It featured a below image from a Guardian article, as well as a statement such as that the article author made enough money "in just six months to pay for a £860 return flight to Australia" using this technique.
The page further claimed that a reader earned "600 quid in less than 2 months" "thanks to this guide". Users were told that with matched betting, they "will be left with up to 95% of the free bet amount as profits" which replicated across hundreds of free bet offers would leave them "quickly be looking at £1,000s". The page then went onto describing the matched betting profit process and claimed to make £17.73 in "just under 20 minutes" which "beats stacking shelves".
The first complaint was whether the ad was inappropriately placed as it was likely to be seen by under-18s. The ASA went a step further and added a second complaint, challenging whether the ad was misleading, as far as it exaggerated the amount of money a person could likely expect to make.
Response by Grip Media
Grip Media, the company behind Save the Student denied the allegations. In response to the first complaint, they asserted that matched betting was not "gambling" and that it was impossible for under-18s to create accounts with bookmakers.
They said that the content was not directed at under-18s and most of their traffic stemmed from those who searched for "matched betting" and so, were already aware of the concept.
The company provided tables of stats, including on ad viewership, Facebook page demographic and web page viewership. The ad viewership stats did not include data for under 18s. The Facebook demographic showed that the majority of their followers are in the 25-34 age group. Webpage viewership focused on pages of particular interest to sixth form, college and first year university students (17 year olds can be university students in Scotland) and showed that the traffic to ten pages under this category accounted for 2.3%. This, according to Grip Media demonstrated that their overall audience under-18 was very low. Grip Media said that the ad was amended once they were made aware of the complaint.
In response to the second complaint, Grip Media said that the guide stems from a need to a clear advice regarding match betting as students need to make additional money due to the cost-of-living crisis.
They said that the examples in the ad are based on personal experience from the writer and readers and provided two emails from readers which evidenced that those new to matched betting can make substantial money in a reasonable amount of time.
Grip acknowledged certain exaggerations in their communications and agreed to revise the copy to include likelihood of money earned being in the hundreds rather than thousands, and that the percentage of winnings retained was between 50-80 rather than 95 previously claimed.
The ASA upheld both complaints.
In relation to the first one, the ASA acknowledged that although matched betting is not gambling in itself, the ad was assessed with gambling in mind, because the purpose of the ad was to encourage people to bet and use to gambling services.
The ASA considered the Save the Student website, where the ad had appeared, would be of interest to some under-18s as it included content for aspiring university students. As a result, ASA expected Grip to demonstrate that less than 25% of their total website audience was under 18. In the absence of that information, the ASA concluded that the ad was of interest to under-18s, and was inappropriately targeted, and socially irresponsible in breach of Rule 1.3 of the CAP Code.
In relation to the second complaint, the ASA considered the claims could be seen as an alternative to employment and that the ad framed matched betting as a stable and consistent way to make money. They underlined the emphasis on the ease as the ad claimed little time was required and there was a large number of free bets available. The ASA considered successfully executing matched betting requires coordinated action and therefore is a complicated process. As a result, the ad overstated the likely amount and the duration of time required and so, was in breach of CAP Code rule 3.1 on misleading advertising.
The take-home here is - collect and store your data! It might be safe to assume that majority of Save the Student viewers are 18 and above. It might even be safe to assume that that number is over 75%, and so, Grip perhaps was not at fault in the first complaint. However, they failed to demonstrate that this is the case. Whilst it can be seen as a double whammy for Grip, it is another example for advertisers that benefit of the doubt is rarely given and if there is a chance that the communications may be seen by children, it is necessary to prove that children are not at risk.
We could therefore not be sure that all web pages which were targeted at under-18s had been captured within the 2.3% figure shared by Save the Student. In any case, we did not consider the total number of views on certain web pages was sufficient to demonstrate that the number of under-18s who made up their total website audience.