The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has sanctioned UK bookmaker Ladbrokes over a “socially irresponsible” advertisement.
Ladbrokes’ ad was first seen on channel All4 on October 25th, 2020, and featured several people using the Ladbrokes mobile app on their phones. One scene in the ad featured a horse race before cutting to a man in a café daydreaming as a voiceover says “Come starter’s orders, I’m a bag of nerves” as the man’s leg is seen shaking.
Issuing a complaint to the ASA, one viewer challenged whether the advertisement depicted gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible. In its response defending the ad, Ladbrokes said it did not portray socially irresponsible gambling behaviour as the man was not shown placing a bet or discussing gambling.
Ladbrokes explained that the advertisement in question portrayed people in everyday situations and that it intended to convey that many people enjoy gambling safely every week. The gambling company also stated that the man featured in the ad was nervous ahead of starter’s orders.
Clearcast, the company responsible for clearing advertisements for UK television, chimed in and explained that the individual featured in the ad was not detached from his surroundings but focusing on watching the horse race on television.
Channel Four also defended the ad, stating that they did not believe it to be socially irresponsible or that it could cause financial, social or emotional harm.
The ASA upheld the complaint and stated that all advertisements must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour deemed socially irresponsible. It also stated that Ladbrokes’ ad had breached rules 16.1 and 16.3.1 of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code.
A statement from the ASA, obtained by GamblingInsider.com, reads: “Marketers should take care to avoid an implication of such behaviours, for instance, outwardly light-hearted or humorous approaches that could be regarded as portrayals of those behaviours.
“Behaviours associated with people displaying or at risk from problem gambling included detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling.”
As a result, the ASA has warned Ladbrokes that future ads should not depict gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible, including detachment from surroundings and preoccupation with gambling activity. No fine or serious sanction was given.
News of Ladbrokes’ sanction comes just as the UK Gambling Commission has fined brick-and-mortar casino Aspers Stratford with penalties for multiple failings including anti-money laundering and player protection.
Announcing the penalty this week, the UK Gambling Commission in a news post that it has fined Aspers Stratford City Casino a whopping £652,500 with Aspers Stratford agreeing to divest the £78,233 it accumulated as a result of its failure to protect customers.
According to the UK Gambling Commission, the regulatory body launched a review into the casino’s operating license in December 2018 after discovering that an individual who was part of the casino’s VIP programme had tragically died of suicide a month earlier.
The Commission’s news post states that the individual, referred to as X in the article, last visited the casino on November 11th, 2018, one day before their death. X reportedly spent £6,100 in cash and previously experienced severe losses at the casino.
Following X’s death, the UK Gambling Commission engaged with the London-based brick-and-mortar casino to analyse its management of X as a customer. Aspers carried out an internal investigation and produced a report on its relationship and personal interactions with X, highlighting several failings and issues with Aspers’ policies.
In September 2019, the UK Gambling Commission launched a deeper investigation to determine whether Aspers has complied with its licensing conditions relating to its management of X and its management of risk to licensing objectives, including preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder, or being used to support crime.
The Commission’s review identified that Aspers Stratford had breached conditions of its operating license in relation to anti-money laundering, social responsibility, and checks on the use of large deposits of cash or equivalent.
The regulatory body found that Aspers continued to allow X to gamble at the casino without performing its required diligence checks and that Aspers Stratford had failed to monitor X and keep a record of their gambling activity.
These failings, the Commission has said, breached Condition 12.1.1 of the License Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP), which states that operators must have effective policies and controls to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
As reported by iGamingBusiness, the UK Gambling Commission found Aspers Stratford’s social responsibility policies insufficient, stating that the casino’s interactions with X as a VIP were “lacking”, that its interactions with X did not always take place, and that there was a “misguided assumption” that X could afford their losses.
What’s more, the Commission identified failings over Aspers’ checks on the use of cash and cash equivalents by customers. Although Aspers Stratford’s AML policy states that all cash transactions of £5,000 or more should face strict checks, X was allowed to make purchases of £46,920 and £51,000 on September 2nd and 3rd, 2017, without any checks.
X mad three additional cash payments between September and November 2018 of £5,190, £5,660, and £6,100. The Commission has stated that these purchases were not flagged as they were spent on electronic roulette and only table games are flagged, a “fundamental weakness” in the casino’s policies.
As a result of its failings, the UK Gambling Commission issued a warning and a fine which totalled at £1.8 million due to the severity of its failings. After Aspers Stratford provided evidence highlighting its loss in finances due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Commission lowered the fine to £652,500.
Issuing a statement on the case, UK Gambling Commission Chief Executive Neil McArthur said: “This was a tragic case, and our thoughts remain with family.
The circumstances of the death were investigated by both the police and the coroner. As the regulator, we examined the casino’s management of the individual and found failings around the company’s anti-money laundering, social responsibility and customer interaction procedures.”
He added: “We will be watching their future conduct closely and this case highlights why all operators must not only have clear policies in place, but that they are up to date and implemented by staff who have the correct training to spot signs of gambling harm or unusual patterns of play.”
Aspers has been ordered to undergo an independent audit within the next six months to ensure that all required changes have been implemented and are still in place.