The sheer frequency of World Cup TV spots from British bookmakers are under the microscope as complaints pile up about the number and nature of the ads shown during the massive global sporting event that wrapped up with France’s victory on July 15.
The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) — an industry self-regulatory body with no actual legal powers of enforcement — received 115 complaints concerning gambling commercials broadcast over the course of the four-week tournament.
The ASA announced it will review whether spots run by Bet365, William Hill, and Coral broke any of the country’s strict advertising standards. The bulk of the objections center around the sheer number of ads shown during World Cup games, as well as the fact that those broadcasts are popular with children.
A study done by the UK’s Guardian news site revealed that there were nearly 90 minutes of gambling ads shows during the entirety of tournament. That’s more air time than was allowed for commercials for alcohol, mobile phones, and computers combined.
By US standards, that’s doesn’t sound like much, but a typical soccer match is run straight through in two 45-minute halves — that’s compared to a typical three to 3 1/2 hour NFL game littered with commercials.
In real-life terms, the spots amounted to one ad for every six minutes of airtime during the televised event, and a combined total of 172 spots.
But it’s not just the pure numbers that has the ASA on alert.
Sense of Urgency
The Authority will also look into whether or not some of the ads themselves crossed a legal line.
A number of the complaints focused on ads that promoted live, in-game bets, which some viewers felt were prompting them to act quickly. Promoting “in play” odds is not banned in the UK, but attempting to create an “inappropriate sense of urgency” around them is.
“The reference to the time sensitivity of odds may be interpreted as a call to act,” an ASA spokesman told The Guardian. “The promotion of these odds in this format draws strong similarities with the message to ‘bet in play, now!’, which is discouraged.”
In February, the ASA introduced tough new rules aimed at cracking down on the exactly these types of practices.
The ad watchdog hasn’t been shy about handing out steep fines in the past. Online gambling company GVC was hit with a $455 million penalty for “misleading consumers” earlier this year. The ASA has also pulled ads that were deemed tempting to children, and others that were considered to be socially irresponsible.
Bookies Counting Cash
Even if the companies are eventually fined, they’ll have plenty of cash to pay with. The World Cup was a windfall for British bookmakers.
While they don’t release official numbers, Ladbrokes and Sporting Bet — both owned by GVC — have noted that their win margins were “better than expected.”
The lack of success by traditional powerhouses like Germany, Argentina, and Brazil certainly helped boost the bottom line. The big favorites tend to be the most popular with the betting public, and with so many being knocked out early, books reaped the rewards.
It also helped that England, who were heavily backed by British bettors, fell short in their semi-final matchup with Croatia. That took bookmakers off the hook for what would have been a major liability.