"Dad, what's a Casino? How do you play Poker? What's a "Texas Hold 'Em"?"Can I have my party there – it looks great fun?". These are some questions parents might face, from their partly-enlightened children, once the Gambling Act 2005 (Act) comes into force fully, as from September, 2007, and who may see adverts for gambling on billboards, the TV, press and elsewhere!
We are all used to seeing adverts for UK sports betting companies, especially at the time of major sporting events; the Grand National took place on 14 April, and the Rugby World Cup later this year will certainly be areas where bookmakers once again remind us of how much more exciting it is, [when watching the race/game], if you have money on the outcome.
We are also all used to seeing posters and other adverts for overseas gaming operators; Paradise Poker adverts on the London Underground used to add a touch of excitement to the morning ride to work, and introduced tube commuters to Caprice and her Poker charms.
However, as from September all licensed UK gambling operators, whether they run a ‘bricks and mortar’ or ‘super’ casino, or an online gaming operator, plus the high street and online sports bookmakers, will all be able to advertise their wares. Gone will be the strict limits on high street casinos only being able to mention their club name in publicity material; gone will be the restriction on running an online gaming operation in the UK, and the limits on off-shore online gaming operators advertising in the UK; instead, some will welcome, and some, no doubt, will critisise, that these businesses will be able to compete equally with other forms of entertainment, advertising their wares more freely, in newspapers, on TV, on the radio and/or on the web, and using innovative marketing schemes.
The operators all need to be licensed by the Gambling Commission, the new regulator established under the Act, and need to comply with any conditions attached to their licenses. It is expected that compliance with the Advertising Codes, (being updated), will be a condition of retaining such licenses.
Providing a framework
But it will not be a free-for-all with "Tinky Winky Poker", sponsorship/advertising in mid-afternoon [children's/kids] programmes, or suggestions that visiting a casino can turn you in to the James Bond hulk that recently came out of the sea to play poker with Tina Green. No, there will be rules and regulations generally governing such adverts.
The Act gives a statutory framework; it includes sections on gambling advertising, but leaves the details to Regulations issued by the Secretary of State, and under various Codes of Practice. The Act anticipates rules on form, content, timing and location of gambling adverts; these can include specified words needing to be included; not likely to allow "guaranteed win evey time", but not insisting that every advert has a "gambling kills" or "gambling harms your fertility" tag line, like smoking.
The Act makes OFCOM responsible for setting, reviewing and revising broadcast, gambling advertising rules, given that gambling adverts can be broadcast under the Act. OFCOM has delegated this to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) system, and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice will be exercising that role. The Commission has invited the Committee of Advertising Practice, to devise the non-broadcast rules, to ensure consistency with the broadcast rules. Advertising the National Lottery is also governed by the Act, and spread betting can be advertisied as an investment activity on specialist financial tv channels and radio.
To come up with the necessary changes to the existing Advertising Codes, both for broadcast and no-broadcast adverts, there have been consultations, not with that high level of responses; one, from the ASA (closed last autumn), and more recently the Gambling Commison itself (closes in early March); the new provisons of the Codes are expected to be published shortly after that.
How will they look? All red tape and unweidly rules that hardly change the position, or a light touch regime, back by a gloved hand from the Commssion and the OFT?
Like the rest of the Act, it is all driven by the licensing objectives set out in the Act; keeping crime out of gambling and gambling out of crime; making sure it is open and fair in how it is run, and protecting children and other vulnerable people from harm or being exploited by gambling.
The consultations have given a good idea of where the rules will lie; currently there is debate about whether there should be mandatory detailed rules on what has to be contained in adverts, or a voluntary code from the industry, with a back stop to enable the Commision to enforce rules if the industry does a bad, or no, job.
One of the problems in setting new rules is the lack of past experience and almost no informed evidence or research, to help the Commission devise the right rules on what works, what doesn't, and areas to target. There may be a requirement to have warning messages, rather following the drinks industry; there may be requirements to have a kite mark or similar from the Commission, to show you are licensed by the Commission. There are quite likely to have to be 'signposts' to where you can get help, if you want it. There may also be a public awareness campaign(s), although care is clearly needed that such campaigns don't do the job for the operators in alerting potential customers to the opportunites for gambling, they didn't know about before; a local casino or bookmakers which has never quite caught your eye before! There is the vexed question, highlighted in the run up to Christmas, about kids' replica soccer and other kits, carrying logos from gambling companies, where there may be a requirement to have 'clean' kit available aswell, so parents have to make the choice (we know where that will go!).
The definition of advertising in the Act is deliberately broad; the offences are designed to catch anyone and anything that is involved at any stage in a campaign that breaches regulations made pursuant to the Act; they also catch anyone involved in advertising gambling that is not properlry licensed in the UK (if based here), or who advertisies foreign gambling coming from outside the EEA, Gibralter, other countries placed on a so-called 'white list', likely to include Alderney and possibly other Channel Islands, and others who satisfy the Commission that there are protections in place to follow the principles mentioned above.
The consultations have already also given a flavour of what the 20 or so operational rules in the Codes are going to contain; all pretty commonsense stuff, about not putting gambling before other areas of responsbility in your life, not suggesting it can enhance personal qualites, not linking gambling with sexual success, not featuring or making such ads appeal to young persons, not encouraging or condoning criminal behaviour, also linked with similar rules and scheduling times for radio and TV adverts.
As we enter a brave new world of gambling adverts in most media looking to attract customers old and new, (but not young), whether the licensing principles can be followed, will clearly be under review and determine if the UK Governement was right to liberalise this industry; however it is a brave new world for all of us, so let's see!