By: John Wilks and Ella Castle

Continuing their focus on the online gambling sector during lockdown, the UK Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) have published an Advice Note to all GB-licensed gambling operators in relation to ads on social media for eSports betting. The advice makes it clear that eSports betting-related advertising must comply with the rules which apply to other forms of gambling advertising, and provides advice on compliance with the rules in the specific context of eSports betting marketing published on social media. This is the first guidance issued by CAP in relation to eSports betting and it comes in response to GambleAware’s 2019 interim report on the impact of gambling and advertising on young people. The subject is particularly timely given both the potential for eSports betting to replace conventional sports betting owing to the current suspension of nearly all sport worldwide, and the increase in potential harm from non-compliant gambling advertising during lockdown.

As many will know, it is a CAP Code requirement for marketing communications to be obviously identifiable as marketing communications. To that end, the Advice Note makes the following recommendations:

  • Where ads for eSports betting appear on a gambling operator’s own social media account, it is likely to be clear from the context that this is marketing. However, if the marketing appears on a third party social media account (e.g. an influencer, brand ambassador or affiliate’s account), then CAP recommend using a clear identifier e.g. ‘#ad’ at the beginning of the post.
  • Social media posts that link through to an advertisement are also likely to be regarded as ads and therefore should make clear that the post is a marketing communication (e.g. using ‘#ad’).

The CAP Code requirements that marketers must not target gambling ads at under 18s or make gambling ads appeal particularly to under 18s apply equally for eSports betting ads (and are particularly noteworthy for e-Sports gambling ads given that e-Sports frequently attract a younger audience than conventional sports).  In particular:

  • If gambling marketing can be searched for on a social media platform and uses specific terms likely to have particular appeal to children (without adequately protecting children from seeing those ads), this is likely to break the rules.
  • No gambling ads should be placed within an app which itself is likely to appeal to under 18s (unless you can definitively demonstrate that no under 18s could view the gambling ads).
  • Ads (whether on social media or anywhere else) must not feature content likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons (including e.g. cartoon imagery or fairy tales), or use influencers with a particular youth appeal.
  • Ads must not depict any person aged under 25 gambling or (subject to a narrow restriction) playing a significant role. This requirement is of particular significance given the average age of eSports players.

The Advice Note also reminds operators that the terms and conditions of promotions and offers in connection with eSports on social media must, as with any other promotion, be made sufficiently clear so as not to mislead consumers.

While the Advice Note mainly serves to remind betting operators that the same rules apply for betting on e-Sports as on conventional sports, it does highlight some of the issues which are particularly significant with e-Sports, given the often younger demographic of players and fans.

Also, as the popularity of eSports, and eSports betting, continue to rise, propelled in part by lockdown measures across the world, the Advice Note serves to warn that CAP and the ASA will be keeping a close eye on compliance in the sector. This comes at a time when betting ads more generally are facing increased regulatory scrutiny: as noted in our Covid-19 advertising guidance posted last week, the ASA has been quick to identify the increased need to protect the public from problematic online gambling advertisements during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown. Earlier this month the ASA released guidance warning gambling operators to pay close attention to their responsibilities under the CAP Codes (see here). This week, the UK’s Betting and Gaming Council announced that its members, which make up 90% of the UK’s betting and gaming companies, would cease advertising on TV and radio during the lockdown (see our blog post here). However, with online ads forming an ever-greater part of betting companies’ advertising campaigns, the moratorium will be of limited effect, hence the continued regulatory focus on social and online ads, as demonstrated by the Advice Note.

Download DLA Piper’s Esports Laws of the World guide here.