Bristol researchers call for tighter restrictions on child-targeted gambling ads

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By Philip Kucharski, First Year, Medicine

Bristol based research reveals the shocking danger of gambling adverts on children and sparks a call for change.

Researchers from the University of Bristol have called for stricter and clearer rules on gambling advertising in a recent paper.  

The report comes as the Gambling Act of 2005 is currently under review to ensure it is fit for the digital age, and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) are currently launching a consultation to better protect children.

The research, which was co-led by Dr Rafaello Rossi and Professor Agnes Nairn, used a self-assessment questionnaire after subjects were shown adverts, in order to gauge their initial valence and arousal.  

Children and young adults are four times more likely to find eSports advertising appealing compared to adults.  

As a result of the data, Dr Rossi and Prof Nairn have produced five calls to action for the Government as well as another for social media platforms.

Firstly, and most drastically, they call for a ban on eSport gambling advertising all together. With the average age of eSports viewers being 26 compared to 50 years old for ‘traditional sports’, the researchers found that children and young adults are four times more likely to find eSports advertising appealing compared to adults.  

Furthermore, the current legislation does not cover eSports at all, which according to Dr Rossi poses ‘a serious risk of getting a whole new generation of gamblers hooked on a serious addiction which has devastating consequences.’

Young people are being frequently exposed to gambling adverts through social media platforms like Twitter | Unsplash/Marten Bjork

The report also calls for clarity and tightening of content marketing - the tactic of gambling agencies whereby they develop stories that inform, entertain, and compel the customer to gamble without explicitly telling them to – as the current regulation is not fit for the digital age.  

There is currently no explicit mention of content marketing in the Gambling Act, and yet 45.2 per cent of children and 72.4 per cent of young adults report that they see a gambling advert on twitter at least once a week, according to Bristol’s research.

Part of the issue, according to Dr Nairn, is that regulators are ‘struggling to keep up with this trend [content marketing].’

45.2 per cent of children and 72.4 per cent of young adults report that they see a gambling advert on twitter at least once a week

Another issue identified by the research is the age at which young people are considered ‘young’. The paper calls on the Government to change this definition from anyone before their 15th birthday to anyone under the age of 25. It is well known that the brain is still developing until the approximate age of 25 and until this point is very vulnerable to extreme and irrational decisions.

The researchers call on social media marketing to be clearly labelled so that children and young people understand the purpose of what they are viewing. This comes as children are almost four times more likely to feel positive emotions when viewing content marketing compared to conventional adverts.  

Finally, the researchers are calling upon social media companies to make seeing gambling adverts a conscience, opt-in decision. Kev Clelland, a Strategic Alliance Director at The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust – the UK’s leading gambling prevention charity- said that ‘There is opportunity to strengthen advertising protections and both the advertisers and the platforms which host adverts should use technology and data to do more.’

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The Gambling Act is currently in the late stages of review and if they choose to listen to the Bristol-based research, a bill is expected to come into force in the first quarter of 2023 at the earliest. However, skeptics question the likelihood of this outcome. A more realistic result will be the introduction of secondary legislation or changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice for gambling companies; these changes could come into play much sooner than a Bill.

Featured image: Unsplash/Aidan Howe


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