Close-Up: Live Issue - Can adland police itself on gambling?

Will the ad industry have to tighten up its rules on the promotion of gambling, John Tylee asks.

It is an indication of the embattled state in which the UK ad industry currently finds itself that the ink is barely dry on its stringent, self-imposed rules to control gambling promotion than it is already under pressure to go further.

What's unusual is that the call comes not from politicians or pressure groups (who can be expected to get the boot in soon enough), but from one of the industry's principal cheerleaders: Peta Buscombe.

Buscombe, the chief executive of the Advertising Association, has indicated she would like betting shops, casinos and online gaming operators to carry "heath warnings" on ads, even though the Committee of Advertising Practice code does not compel them to do so.

Doing the right thing - and being seen to do so - is becoming increasingly important to the business. Already pilloried for its alleged role in fuelling child obesity, advertising will be forced to fight on a second front when almost all the statutory restrictions on gambling advertising are removed on 1 September.

Doubtless, much of this fresh round of criticism will be inspired by how much adland stands to benefit from the deregulation. A conservative estimate puts the expected gambling industry adspend at around £100 million a year. However, if an expensive TV campaign by one company leads to others piling in, the figure is projected to go as high as £350 million.

"There's no question that most of the money will go on TV," the head of a major agency with a major gambling operator on its client list says. "If you've never been on air before, the chances are you're going to attract enormous interest."

The code itself bears a strong resemblance to the rules in place on alcohol advertising. Gambling companies must not promote themselves in a way that would attract children; link gambling with sex appeal; or exploit people's credulity or inexperience.

This cuts little ice with the Church of England. It argues any such advertising must be an inducement to gamble and questions how the code can protect the most vulnerable.

But Marina Palomba, the IPA's legal affairs director, insists: "These are robust rules. If there's any criticism to be made, it has to be not of us but the Government for liberalising the gambling laws."

CAP agrees, arguing the code is a response to gambling's evolution from the days when it was a seedy and secretive activity ("rather like prostitution", in the words of one CAP member) to its present status as a key part of the leisure industry.

The watchdog feels it has done everything possible to allay public concerns about gambling ads and that, with a full review of the codes imminent, tweaks can be made should they be needed.

However, some believe criticism of its ad rules may be the least of the gaming industry's problems. More worrying may be the ongoing row over telephone callers being ripped off by TV quiz programmes.

Philip Circus is a marketing law consultant and was a member of the CAP working party that drew up the gambling ad code. He says: "At a time when gambling is coming of age as a marketing sector, this is the last thing it needs.

"The longer this controversy rumbles on, the more public confidence in gaming promotions, and in particular 'instant wins', is going to be undermined. In the end, this may be more important to people than anything that we've done at CAP."

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CREATIVE DIRECTOR - Leon Jaume, executive creative director, WCRS

"There's a lot of double standards and hypocrisy attached to the promotion of gambling, and I think the public can see through that.

"On the one hand, the Government is happy to allow super-casinos to be built because it wants the tax revenue. On the other, it says it doesn't want gambling to cause extra social misery.

"There will always be those who have gambling problems, just as there are alcoholics, and there's no doubt advertising will encourage some of these people, even though we would rather it didn't.

"But we can only deal with the world as it is. If a product is legal, you should be able to advertise it. We'll work within the rules. To do otherwise would be a disservice."

GAMBLING CHARITY - Geoffrey Godbold, chief executive, GamCare

"Our charity was involved in the drafting of the CAP code, which acknowledges our concerns about exploiting people's credulity or inexperience.

"But will the code be sufficient to head off public criticism? I very much doubt it.

"There are bound to be some advertisers who try to push the envelope. The real test will be how well the Advertising Standards Authority polices them.

"I would like to see companies stop offering ever larger prizes, as well as bringing back the fun aspect the industry seems to have lost.

"If these companies committed themselves to behaving in a more socially responsible way, their agencies would have to follow."

AGENCY CHIEF - Gary McCall, managing director, Poulter

"Our client, William Hill, has no intention of flouting the code. And when people see the sensible way in which gambling is advertised, I think criticism will fade.

"For one thing, this isn't like drinks advertising, where agencies always look to push the boundaries. For another, I doubt there will be a great rush to go on TV when there are so many other ways to promote gambling services. Gambling promotions tend to be around big sporting events, such as the Grand National, and making people aware of the opportunities to bet.

"Nobody gets up in arms any more about the National Lottery being advertised on TV. People will soon see other gambling ads in the same way."

INDUSTRY BODY - Hamish Pringle, director-general, IPA

"The UK self-regulatory system is arguably the toughest in the world, and the new rules on gambling advertising reflect that.

"The problem is that whatever the level of attention and scrutiny is given to such rules, there will always be people who complain they don't go far enough.

"Gambling is a controversial issue, and our biggest challenge is not so much coping with the rules themselves, but how we win the inevitable PR battle that's bound to follow their publication.

"One important thing we need to do is make sure everybody knows what the rules are before they start pontificating on them."