Gambling advertisements in children games

By Mike Fatouros | Updated: April 1st, 2024

‘Spin the wheel’ or how does gambling advertising reaches the wrong target audience

With the broad technology scene we have, babies are basically born with a smartphone in their hands, huh? Even though that might sound too drastic, we can all agree that they definitely become familiar with technologies much earlier and easier than their parents and grandparents.

The Z generation learns how to control a smartphone, tablet, configure advanced settings, some even start to code at a very, very young age. According to the GSMA research of mobile use with children across, there were 8 countries surveyed.  As it turns out, 10 years is the most common age for a child to first own a mobile phone, followed by 9 and 8 years. Even though the study was done in 2014, there were not many changes seen. Actually, the mobile phone usage only grew bigger amongst children.

Source: GSMA Children’s use of mobile phones report, 2014

Such a situation is not something all parents are on good terms with, so they try to delay the inevitable introduction of technology to a child’s life. However, it’s almost impossible to separate them from it entirely. Even in the early days. 

Children are exceedingly curious. Some more, some less, but they all desire to experience and learn new things every second of every day. Are you reading a book? Watching a movie? Painting? Well, your little fellow is at least going to try to keep you a company there.  They feel attraction to every new thing that comes to their life. Naturally, they see us using our phone, posting, scrolling, playing (sometimes way too much when needed) and they just can’t get their eyes from it. And then fingers, of course.

Some parents, of course, let their children use the phone for a short period to play games, perhaps learn something (yes, there are apps for that). But do they really monitor while using the phone? I can imagine, the child also wants to have some privacy with their virtual farm or pet. But this is a window for a very quickly escalating, and even dangerous situation. It may not seem like a big deal at first, but imagine, your child playing candy crush, angry birds or one of those games, where you style an oddly looking individual’s hair. The advertisements they see, as we came to a conclusion, is not always related to the game they’re playing. In fact, it could differ in a very unimaginably big way.

The research objectives were explored through a multidisciplinary approach. In total there were nine strands to the research; a summary of which is provided below. A more detailed overview is provided in section 1.5 of this document; full detail is provided within the main report.

One of such unrelated ads in children games, as we’ve recently witnessed, is gambling and casino. Even though there are numerous restrictions to control gambling from being promoted, somehow the way for them to enter is still found. Naturally, we raised questions. Some individuals just like to break the rules, huh?

Since the gambling industry is growing, and will only continue to do so (statistics speaks more than words), it is beyond important to raise this question ASAP. Early in fact, to stop the gambling addiction from further becoming even a bigger issue 20 years forward. Source:

Getting into a role of a private detective

I was interested in how these types of advertisements are even legal in children’s popular games and websites. The idea about the regulation of gambling advertisements was planted in my head for quite some time. So, I did what any other curious, Google familiar individual would do – deep-dive into an information iceberg of materials. I am going to share my views and findings on gambling advertising laws, real cases, and insights from my own experiences in life.

Gambling regulations for advertisement – one suits all?

So, first let’s talk about advertisements for gambling in general. Unmistakably, there are regulations and rules for this industry because of its effect on weak individuals. As I have come to an understanding, there is no ‘one suits all’ regulation and law ‘package’ for a gambling advertising. There are different regulations for advertising gambling-related products. In fact, they differ in each country. There is, however, an ongoing concern about the growth in advertising and its impact, particularly on young people and vulnerable adults, according to the Ipsos MORI report: More than four out of five (85%) aged 11-24 reported seeing gambling advertising on TV (including national lottery adverts). And 70% of children and young people noticed gambling adverts in betting shops on the high street, window displays. That is an unmanageably high number to see gambling ads at such a young age. And, indeed, it poses in terms of having disordered gambling behaviour in the later years.

Moving to our next point – online gambling advertising. According to EGBA Code of Conduct on Responsible Advertising for Online Gambling Gambling operators’ profiles and pages on social media should clearly state the legal age limit for gambling. They should also include a forward advice notice, reminding users not to forward content to anyone underage. ‘When technically attainable, Gambling operators should ensure that their profiles and pages on social media are limited, so they can only be reached by those who claim they are over the legal age limit for gambling. Gambling operators’ profiles and pages on social media should be verified by an “official profile” badge or statement, so users are aware that they are the official brand pages; e.’ And, indeed, that makes sense. How many times have we (accidentally) clicked on the suspicious link, only to find it more like it when asked for an age confirmation? Well, turns out, that’s actually a good sign. And the rules are being minded here.  

In the UK, Under the Gambling Act 2005, gambling operators selling into the British market must have a Gambling Commission licence to transact with, and advertise to, British consumers. The Commission’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (LCCP, April 2020) require gambling operators to comply with the Advertising Codes, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). 

As it is stated in the regulation material, The Codes are designed to ensure that gambling adverts do not: ‘portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of children, young persons or other vulnerable persons suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial concerns link gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.’ So, adverts definitely have to take this in mind when crafting their ad campaigns. Well, in other words, you have to be creative. 

In fact, there are many excellent, extraordinary gambling and casino advertisement campaigns out there. And no, they do not breach any law mentioned above. For example, Casino de Ibiza advertisement (which even aired on TV), or The D Las Vegas commercial

It’s happening right next to us

Moving on to the next, more vulnerable point, and in fact, the reason why this article even happened. ‘To avoid marketing targeting Minors, Gambling operators should use the available data tools when advertising on social media, such as age-screening tools or tools to identify age-restricted content. This can be done, for example, by filtering data which analyses individuals’ online interests and browsing behaviour. ‘ 

There were a lot of cases when  ‘partly’ gambling ads appeared on children-friendly games sites. What’s interesting though, is how the companies find a loop in the regulations provided, to get their ads out there. This includes putting the game ads without playing with the real money, or just providing a glimpse of these casino games (e.g. providing only one spin for the wheel, and if a person wants to do it more, the separate site needs to be loaded). 

For example, your child could be playing simple, fun games from a first glance, but when an ad takes place, it could be associated with pokies and casino gambling. 

The problem is here, and it is obvious that such recurring action could eventually lead to more addictions in the future. The question is, how can we, as individuals actually take our place to make a better future. Even though the gambling era is growing and getting bigger, there has to be certain boundaries. And this is certainly one of those times the boundaries have clearly been ignored. 

Even though this is the place to give a magical solution and a positive ending, in this case it might be hard to do so. Although, if you read this article (and dive more into the provided regulations), I would very much like to recommend to not let your guard down when it comes to gambling and advertising. If done positively, advertisements could prevent hundreds of thousands of addictive gambling cases. It is a pity that this case with gambling ads in children games is definitely not ethical.

Sources used in this article:

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