ASA Probes “Psychological Tricks” in World Cup Betting AdsBy Luke Haward, CDC Gaming ReportsSeptember 2, 2018 at 3:22 pmA cascade of gambling ads poured over our TV screens during this year’s World Cup, and in the wake of this wave, the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) received over a hundred complaints on the subject. While the UK Gambling Commission has recently tightened the regulations governing breaches of the advertising code, there were plenty of regulations already in place on this issue, and many of the complaints focus on operators who, intentionally or not, allegedly caused risk to children – many of whom likely viewed the ads shown during live daytime matches – and to those with gambling problems.Another common accusation was that certain ads ran afoul of a law requiring them to steer clear of “psychological tricks” in their presentation. This is a fascinating requirement. One might make a case that almost all ads attempt, by definition, to influence the decision-making and, hence, the desires of their audiences, so there must be some interesting technical considerations about what determines trickery. This presumably includes anything sufficiently underhand, obscured or pushy. One example being cited in the press is that of offering special terms for bets on early match events, such as a goal scored in the first 20 minutes of play, something which obviously provides incentive to bet quickly.Tough and uncertain terrain over which to draw a line, which is exactly what the ASA will have to do during its recently announced probe into the World Cup ads. It brings with it more negative publicity for the gambling industry, which is once again in its now near-constant posture of being reigned in and penalised or criticised for shortcomings, legal failings, or exploitative self-promotion. Many operators act fully within the parameters of the law, of course, and some are far more progressive than others, but there have certainly been a number of high-profile incidents in the past couple of years.A spokesman for the ASA said, while announcing the probe, that “… our guidance introduced earlier this year restricts gambling ads that create an inappropriate sense of urgency, clamps down on ads that encourage repetitive play and provides more detail on vulnerable groups like problem gamblers that marketers need to work to protect.”The UK Gambling Commission has shown a willingness to wade in and start cleaning up aspects of self-regulation that the industry has mismanaged, including imposing regulatory changes which allow it to penalise firms with unlimited fines and tighter controls over licensees. Some major bookmakers have responded to the changes in kind: William Hill, for example, has launched a “zero harm” campaign and objectives. The hope, of course, is that such initiatives are as earnest and authentic as they appear, but the proof will very much be in the pudding, so to speak. If nothing else, we need to see bigger budgets for treatment and protection of vulnerable groups and problem gamblers, and overhauls of existing systems of customer protection and advertising formats.