Are UK Online Casinos Breaking ASA Rules on Purpose?

Many popular online gambling sites are getting in trouble for irresponsible ads, but are they worth the risk?

Irresponsible Ads Worth the Risk? Popular Online Gambling Sites in ViolationOver the course of the last year, we’ve seen the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) tighten the reins on internet casinos. Lax player protections and irresponsible ads are resulting in more fines and reprimands against UK’s licensed operators than ever before.

In recent months, it seems the ASA is pulling commercials faster than fresh-fried donuts. Each incident tends to draw the same reaction from those observant enough to notice them. Great job catching that one. Another win for the good guys. Let ’em have it! Show them you mean business.

But as the months go on, and the incidents continue to pile up, I’m beginning to wonder… are operators doing it on purpose?

Do Popular Online Gambling Sites Care About Fines?

Gala Interactive, part of the Gala Coral Group, is one of the UKs largest internet gambling operators. Last month, the ASA upheld a complaint that one of their ads “implied that gambling involved skill rather than chance, and therefore was socially irresponsible.”

A week later, Bell Fruit Casino was reprimanded when one of their social media ads, boasting “Play Slots for Real Cash. Welcome Bonus up to £200”, was targeting inappropriate (underage) audiences when it was displayed the Dude Perfect 2 app.

These are just two of the more recent rulings by the ASA. They are clearly cracking down on online casinos for irresponsibility, but they are doing enough to persuade them against repeat incidents?

The fact is, major online gambling groups attract a massive audience through marketing campaigns. In turn, their massive audience generates millions of dollars in annual revenue. Are they really concerned about a small fine—or more often than not, a slap on the wrist?

Neither Gala or Bell Fruit was fined for their breach of commercial conduct. In fact, the ASA is notorious for telling companies to pull inappropriate ads, without actually penalizing them.

The UKGC is more inclined to enforce a fiscal penalty on licensed operators. Regulators doled out more than £23 million in fines between April 2017-18 alone. One company’s approach to dealing with violations could be interpreted as incredibly brazen.

Multiple reports suggest that Stride Gaming is (nonchalantly) preparing for a heavy hit from the UKGC. On August 2, during a corporate call, executives informed investors that they were expecting to “pay a significant financial penalty following a review of the manner in which the Licensee has historically carried on its licensed activities.”

While the UKGC has yet to announce the size of the impending fine, Stride Gaming is clearly preparing for the worst. The company set aside a whopping £4 million to cover the cost of what surely amounts to a long list of violations.

Just how far below the belt does an online casino have to operate to be worthy of such a hefty fine? In May, LeoVegas Casino was hit with a £600k penalty for misleading ads and failing to protect vulnerable players. Maybe Stride’s transgressions are more on the line of 888Casino, which was hit with a record £7.8 million for “outrageous failings” that included over 7,000 voluntarily self-excluded members being permitted to wager a collective $4.6 million on 888-brand websites.

It’s unclear yet whether the UK’s “zero tolerance” campaign and increasing penalties will be effective in actually stopping popular online gambling sites from operating outside of compliance, or if they’ll continue to flaunt the law, pulling ads, and paying fines, knowing they’ll continue to earn plenty of revenue to make up for it.

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