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The subject of free bets offered by gambling companies is again in the news. A complaint over an advertisement by Festival Free Bets has been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). It comes at a time when stricter regulation is taking place of gambling industries around the world.

The advertisement in question featured Astrid Wett who is a social media influencer and aged 23. It was seen on X (previously known as Twitter) on 12 March, just before the Cheltenham Festival was due to begin. The advertisement showed Wett at the Cheltenham racecourse.

As she is aged under 25, a complaint was received saying that this contravened rules set in the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code that are in place for advertising gambling products. Wett said that she didn’t know that any age restrictions were in place. As far as she was concerned, being over the age of 18 meant there were no problems.

Now that Wett does know the rules, she has apologised and added that she understands how important it is to gamble responsibly.

Festival Free Bets failed to respond to enquiries made by the ASA who are not happy at all about that. The ASA say they are “concerned” and the lack of a response showed “apparent disregard for the code.” 

As a result, the ASA ruled that CAP Code rule 1.7 had been breached by Festival Free Bets. They have reminded them that they have a responsibility to quickly respond to any enquiries made by them and asked them to do so in the future.

Those under the age of 25 can only appear in a “significant role” in gambling advertisements under certain conditions. It can occur if it is a marketing communication where a bet has been placed by using an operator’s website. Where the subject of the advertisement is the same as the bet placed, that is another exception that is allowed.

Festival Free Bets are not “a licensed gambling provider,” the ASA say that using them would put people in a situation where they would need to be “interacting with gambling services.” 

Using someone aged under 25 was therefore “irresponsible” and beached CAP Code rule 1.3. That states that marketing must be conducted in a responsible manner. This has now been referred to the CAP’s compliance team. The advertisement can no longer be shown and in future they must ensure individuals used must be over the age of 25.

Recent months have seen several gambling advertisements criticised by the ASA. LeoVegas were told to withdraw a BetUK advertisement that featured retired footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa. This was because it could appeal to children. A gambling-related tweet by former England footballer Garyl Neville was also removed for the same reason.

In 2023, an advertisement for Mecca Bingo claimed that self-esteem can be enhanced by gambling. That advertisement was also upheld.

2023 saw a White Paper published by the UK government on the subject of gambling reform. September was planned to see reduced maximum stake limits imposed on online slot games. Whether this will take place is up in the air now that a General Election has been called for July 4.

It’s not just in the UK that the gambling industry is being subjected to stricter regulation. In Bulgaria, new legislation has recently been passed that will make it illegal in towns with a population of under 10,000 to have a new casino opened.

Bulgaria is also taking action against gambling advertising. While in the UK, the process of reforming the 2005 Gambling Act has been going on for the past five years with little action, it took just over a week for Bulgaria to introduce the new advertising rules.

Gambling advertisements have been banned in the media by the new law. Only the state lottery can now be advertised in this way. That’s because the profits made from the lottery help finance Bulgarian sports.

The only advertising permitted is on outdoor billboards but with certain restrictions in place. They must be at least 300 metres away from schools or kindergartens. The worry of the licensed and regulated Bulgarian gambling companies is that players will take their custom to the black market where customer protection levels are lower. 

Those in the media are also concerned as they will see a drop in revenue due to the ban. This may make covering major sporting events difficult.

The offering of free bets and casino bonus codes is another controversial subject. In Brazil, for example, there is to be a ban on offering them and this is due to come into force in October 2024. There are also going to be changes in how long deposits and withdrawals take and a ban on payouts via cheque or cryptocurrencies.