Five online gambling firms break UK rules on ads targeting children

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Advertising Five online gambling firms break UK rules on ads targeting children

Watchdog uses child ‘avatars’ to catch out firms including Aston Villa sponsor Unibet

Unibet was Aston Villa’s main kit sponsor last season, and this season sponsors the club’s training kit. Photograph: Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

The UK advertising watchdog has caught five gambling firms, including Aston Villa’s sponsor Unibet, breaking strict rules that ban them from targeting children with online betting ads.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) created a number of child “avatars” – online profiles that simulate children’s online web browsing – to see the type of ads with which children are bombarded when they are online.

Over a two-week monitoring period the regulator identified ads by 43 gambling operators appearing on freely accessible online outlets, including 20 YouTube channels and two dozen children’s websites.

Of those gambling companies the ASA found five brands – Vikings Video Slot, Redbet, Multilotto, Unibet and PlayOjo – broke the UK advertising code, which prohibits gambling ads being targeted at those aged under 18.

It found a total of 23 gambling ads appeared 151 times across 11 of the children’s websites that were monitored. None of the ads from the five brands that broke the advertising code appeared on YouTube channels. The main culprit was Vikings Video Slot, which accounted for almost half of the ads (10) and 80% (122) of the number of times a gambling ad appeared.

The ASA said the gambling firms accepted they had broken the rules, but in most instances it was told the reason was due to mistakes by third-party companies hired to run their campaigns on the web.

The most high-profile brand caught in the watchdog’s dragnet was Unibet, owned by Kindred Group, which also runs prominent brands including 32Red.

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Unibet was the main kit sponsor of the Aston Villa football team last season; this year its name appears on the training kit, and the firm was the first official betting partner of Warwickshire county cricket club.

“The advert was served by a third party without the control or knowledge of Kindred/Unibet and in breach of the contractual terms in place,” said Alexander Westrell, the group head of communications at Kindred. “The advert was served due to a fault in that third party’s systems and the fault has been addressed. The advert did not lead to under-18 gambling.”

The company said it did not accept business from customers under 18 and did not “knowingly derive revenue” from under-age gambling.

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The ASA said the creation of online avatars that mimic children’s browsing habits was an important new technology that it intends to also use to expose brands breaking the rules in areas including alcohol and junk food advertising.

The watchdog is exploring whether it can extend monitoring to include sites that require a log-in procedure, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which are not covered.

“Online ads are subject to the same strict rules that apply elsewhere and this important new monitoring capability delivers on our commitment to having more impact online,” said Guy Parker, the ASA’s chief executive.

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