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Children as young as six bombarded by online gambling ads

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 03/04/2019 Natasha Bernal

a close up of a piece of paper: Children were repeatedly targeted by online gambling companies © Dominic Lipinski/PA Children were repeatedly targeted by online gambling companies Children as young as six are being targeted by major gambling operators online, an investigation by Britain's advertising watchdog has found.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) created seven online identities or "avatars" to impersonate the browsing habits of children of different ages from six to 18.

Over the course of two weeks, the regulator found more than 150 incidents of gambling adverts targeting users on 11 children's websites.

Adverts were found on websites featuring downloadable colouring-in pages, traditional stories for children, dressing up games and online homework resource sites, the watchdog said. 

The ASA worked with data analytics firm Advertising Intelligence to create the avatars, which were repeatedly targeted by 23 adverts from 43 gambling companies.

Dr Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans, said the new probe shows the "clock is now ticking" for gambling companies to act and that they should be regulated by the government if they are "not capable of regulating themselves". 

"This is another example of where it appears gambling companies are flouting the law," he said.

The brands involved included Vikings Video Slot, RedBet, Multilotto, Unibet and Skill on Net.

The gambling operators involved in this probe have accepted their ads broke the rules and were told to immediately take the adverts down, the ASA said. 

In most instances, the ASA was informed that the problems arose due to errors by third-party companies who served the campaigns on behalf of the operators.

New rules introduced by the Gambling Commission last year mean that gambling companies could face tougher action, including financial penalties, if they are found to repeatedly break advertising rules.

© 2018 Thanasis Zovoilis Guy Parker, the chief executive of the ASA, said: "This important new monitoring capability delivers on our commitment to having more impact online. 

"It's already allowed us to spot a problem with a small number of gambling operators and take quick and effective action to ensure children are protected from irresponsibly-targeted gambling ads."

The advertising watchdog is now exploring extending the technology to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to monitor exposure to online ads for alcoholic drinks, high fat, salt or sugar food and drink products.

The gambling watchdog has ramped up pressure on companies who are seen to target underage players. 

The Gambling Commission said it is introducing tougher identity and age check rules  for online operators as well as new requirements which will prevent children from playing free-to-play versions of gambling games on licensees’ websites.

Gambling firms are also facing a mandatory levy this month unless they increase money to pay for education and treatment of addicts. In March, culture minister Mims Davies warned that companies could be forced to pay if the industry fails to meet the expected £10m.

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Her move came in a Westminster Hall debate in which Tory MP Richard Graham called for a ban on all gambling adverts during live TV sport and a compulsory levy to raise £100m - or 1pc of the industry's profits - to pay for research into addiction.

Concerns over online gambling are among the topics raised by the Telegraph's Duty of Care campaign, which aims to introduce statutory legislation to protect young people using services from social media and online gaming companies. 

Backed by a regulator like Ofcom, any breaches would result in legal action against the companies, or their British subsidiaries if they are based abroad.

Jeremy Wright, the secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "This is an excellent example of how technology can play a pivotal role in tackling online harms, and I congratulate the ASA on this innovative approach to ensure that rules to protect children from online gambling advertising are enforced." 

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