You might recall that new tougher gambling advertising rules with stronger protections for under-18s came into force on 1 October 2022. The old rules required that gambling ads must not be of "particular appeal" to children, whereas the new rule prohibits content (imagery, themes and characters) with “strong appeal” to under-18s from featuring in gambling ads, regardless of how such content is viewed by adults.

Since the new rules came into force, there has been a steady stream of rulings by the ASA upholding complaints against gambling ads under the new “strong appeal” test – with Ladbrokes in the firing line on all three occasions.

In the first ruling, a ‘promoted’ Ladbrokes tweet featured an image of YouTuber and boxer extraordinaire, Jake Paul, alongside text discussing his recent fight with Tommy Fury. The tweet invited users to vote on what they thought would be Jake Paul's next move. In the second ruling, two separate ‘promoted’ Tweets featured images of Eddie Howe, David Moyes, Frank Lampard, Brendan Rodgers and Gary O’Neil, with the second Tweet promoting Ladbrokes odds on the “NEXT MANAGER TO LEAVE”.

In justifying its decision to uphold the complaints, the ASA said that it accepted that boxing is an adult-orientated sport and so had low appeal to under-18s.  However, it noted that Jake Paul had a substantial social media following on various platforms. The ASA also said that football managers, especially those from top-flight clubs, are considered in CAP guidance to be “high risk” because they have significant influence on under 18s. It also noted that whilst Ladbrokes had targeted the ads at over 25s (using Twitter’s targeting functionality), because Twitter does not have a robust age-verification system in place (allowing users to self-verify their own age on sign-up), Ladbrokes had not effectively excluded under 18s from the audience and therefore had breached the rules.

The above decisions came about due to complaints, but the most recent ruling arose out of intelligence gathered by the ASA’s Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules. Four promoted tweets for Ladbrokes, seen in January and February 2023, considered who would win the Australian Open Men’s Single Semi-Final, who would win the first Men’s Singles Grand Slam 2023, and two related to Novak Djokovic. The ASA challenged whether the ads included an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to those under 18 years of age, and therefore breached the Code.

Ladbrokes argued that the tweets were editorial content.  The tweets referenced and included imagery of prominent players, but stated that they reviewed each player’s media profile, follower demographic, and sponsorship partnerships to assess whether the players would be likely to strongly appeal to under 18s.  Their social media accounts did not have many followers under 18 and they had partnerships with brands that were unlikely to appeal to the under 18s.

The ASA disagreed with this assessment and said that prominent sportspeople (including tennis players at the highest level who had a significant national profile) were considered “high risk” in terms of how likely they were to appeal to the under 18s. The ads featured Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas who had all appeared in a Grand Slam final in the previous year and the ASA considered them to be “star players”.  It also reiterated that if the tweets had appeared in a medium that completely excluded under 18s they would have been acceptable, but Twitter does not have robust age verification processes as a platform.

These rulings show just how seriously the ASA is taking the issue of ensuring gambling ads do not have strong appeal to the under 18s, and how such ads should be effectively targeted to avoid censure from the ASA.

The rulings illustrate that the ASA will consider different evidence and apply different weightings when deciding if an individual featured has “strong appeal” to the under 18s, such as the profile of the celebrity/athlete concerned and the targeting of the ad.  However, even if advertisers have taken prudent steps to stay on the right side of the line (e.g. targeting the ads towards over-18s and providing supporting data to evidence that a celebrity’s following is mostly composed of adults / that impressions of an were mostly viewed by an adult audience), ultimately if the platform used to distribute the ads does not have robust age-verification methods (such as Twitter) then the ASA is likely to conclude that the rules have been beached on the basis under-18s have not been wholly excluded from seeing the ads.