Betting on the Future for Gambling Advertising By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports December 19, 2018 at 2:45 am A fascinating study entitled “Controlling the Illusion of Control”, on the subject of patterns in gambling advertising, was published in late 2017 in the journal International Gambling Studies. The study recommends that a subject of concern to regulators, based on this UK research, may be the appearance of “a magnified idea of control in sports”. This is in reference to sporting outcomes, and the crafting in a player of an inflated sense of his/her ability to predict those outcomes. The study indicates several reasons for believing this is a significant trend in advertising over recent years, and argues that close scrutiny is therefore appropriate on the part of regulators. This study comes into focus this month, with much in the news this past week on a proposed TV gambling ban. Sky UK CEO Stephen Van Rooyen quite rightly pointed out last week in a Times interview that a whistle-to-whistle TV live broadcast ban for gambling ads will only resolve concerns with the impact of gambling advertising on problem gamblers and potential problem gamblers to a very limited degree, given that online content is of greater concern and occupies a larger percentage of the overall market. The thing about online ads is that they are targeted, very frequently these days, at users’ keywords, search histories, and profiles. This makes them potentially much more personalizable, and hence potentially more effective. Ads targeting frequent players are potentially homing in on problem players. The accuracy of such targeting makes them decent candidates for regulative concern. But internet is vast and relatively unpoliced. While a gambling regulator anywhere in Europe might have success in prosecuting a licensed firm for showing inappropriate or illegal ads to its citizens, a comprehensive approach would mean that many prosecutions or fines would be levied on foreign, unlicensed operators. As with the experience of the Dutch regulator Kansspelautoriteit against rogue firms based in Curaçao, many if not most of these fines are likely to be ignored and remain unpaid, and hence somewhat pointless. In short, it’s simply harder to effectively regulate an online space, because the internet is by definition an international space, ignoring closed military and other private networks and a few major national firewalls such as China’s. Any TV ad ban will rectify certain issues, and surely help to contain the amount of gambling advertising seen by children, which can only be a good thing, but it won’t do much to protect those with established gaming addictions. Regulation of the internet is much harder to achieve, given the actual current state of technology, but blocks by banks such as Barclays’ and self-exclusion does go some way towards achieving this. For those interested, Gamble Aware have a section on their website dedicated to advice for users as to how to avoid online gambling advertising in social media, a detailed guide on a complex and important subject. Italy will surely face similar challenges with regard to its controversial total ban on gambling advertising. Google and other major names such as Facebook have long ago complied with removing gambling firms from AdWords and other advertising spaces online, in acceptance with the incoming law change, but unlicensed foreign operators will surely still be propagating ads somewhere that users in Italy can view; it is an unsolved problem how to fully tackle this via regulation. Greater international cooperation is surely one part of the solution, as we’ve seen from the recent agreement formalised between Malta and Italy to work more closely together in busting organized crime in gambling. Coming back to the study we opened with, “Controlling the Illusion of Control” may sound cryptic, but the research is essentially simply contending that the UK sports betting industry ads tend to equate ease of use of software with ease of winning. The study also suggests that the recent “in game” betting options tend to amplify a sense of users’ ability to choose likely outcomes. These sort of subtler messages in advertising are the sort that can get past the advertising regulators’ eye and insidiously encourage players to think they have a better chance than they really do to beat the bookies. This again is much harder to regulate, as it becomes a battle of who can design the subtler message, get it past regulators, and still achieve good results. In a competing market it seems, sadly, to be impossible to hold up the players’ wellbeing as the ultimate, dominant decider over what gets aired. Self-interest amongst firms competing for market share will ultimately remain the presiding motivator, and it’s a jungle out there.