DCMS Reinforces UK Gambling Advertising Restrictions

6 March 2006

The U.K. Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in conjunction with the Gambling Commission on Friday distributed a document outlining the government's stance on remote gaming advertisements under the Gaming Act of 1968. The two bodies have been concerned that many advertisements for remote gaming sites that are currently issued in Great Britain are illegal under the 1968 Act, and so today after months of review the two bodies have issued a joint guidance paper defining exactly what they believe constitutes an illegal advertisement. The Gambling Act of 2005 will usher in new laws for remote gaming and the advertising of it, but those rules will not become effective until September 2007, and the government, therefore, advises that companies adhere to the 1968 law until that time or face charges from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

"One of the main purposes of the Gaming Act 1968 was to prevent the artificial stimulation of demand for gaming," the document states.

Section 42 of the 1968 Act places restrictions on gambling by dictating that advertisements may not "invite" the public to pay for gambling services.

Advertisements that simply "inform" the public that gaming facilities exist at a given site or location, however, are not prohibited.

The Guidance states, "The government considers that it is legal for overseas remote gaming operators to advertise their services in Great Britain, and for those advertisements to be placed in newspapers, magazines, billboards or on the sides of buses and taxis and on tube trains, all of which we have seen over the last few years. However, the government considers that section 42(1)(c) does place restrictions on the content of those adverts."

The concept of "inviting" the public is interpreted by the government to include any inducement or encouragement to gamble. The offering of a bonus or benefit for gambling is, therefore, considered a violation of the law.

Examples of language that the government considers illegal because it invites, encourages or entices the public to gamble include:

Play poker everyday, Play poker here, Try your luck in our casino, Test your nerve with poker, Step up and play our £100,000 thriller, Play on-line anytime, We will match your first deposit, Join today and get a bonus, Referral bonus for every friend you introduce to the party, Bonus on every deposit, £150 free for all new players, Over £500 free in monthly promotions for every player, Win and double your money, Free entry, Guaranteed cash prizes everyday, Win big cash prizes, Win a trip for two to Las Vegas

The Guidance also states that even though an advertisement may contain purely factual information, the advertisement would still be illegal if it encourages the public to gamble. Such examples include:

Free million pound poker tournament, 5 new poker games, Daily jackpots, Million pound guaranteed tournaments every month, Best selection of slots, Top payout £1,000 per spin, Weekly tournaments, Progressive jackpots, Poker games to suit everybody, Up to 100,000 players on-line, More prizes - bigger jackpots

The Guidance provides no examples of language that might contain factual information but does not invite the public to gamble.

"The Guidance has been helpful to a degree," commented Clive Hawkswood, CEO of the Remote Gaming Association to Online Gambling Law Report, "but it still leaves large grey areas, such as how do you use factual information in advertising."

The Guidance notes further that although the 1968 Act could not possibly have imagined having to draft advertising laws pertaining to the Internet, mobile phone or other modern forms of communication, it believes that the same guidelines that apply to print, television and radio ads should apply to all forms of advertisements.

Citing the case of Victor Chandler International Limited v Customs and Excise Comrs, the Guidance reads, "The court stated that "ongoing" statutory provisions are "always speaking" and so should be construed in a way that continuously updates their wording to allow for changes since the Act was initially framed. Therefore, the government and the commission consider that the definition of advertising under the 1968 Act should be construed in the light of new forms of communication, together with the intention of Parliament at the time to restrict such advertising."

The Guidance states that its purpose is to "provide guidance to advertisers, publishers remote gaming operators on the types of advertisements that the government and commission will consider passing to the CPS on the basis that they are in breach of the 1968 Act."

The ultimate task of interpreting the 1968 Act to determine whether a particular advertisement is illegal should a case be referred to the CPS will belong to the courts.

The Guidance closes by noting that the penal provisions of the 1968 Act only apply to people who breach the law while in Great Britain, but states that "if an instruction to issue a prohibited advert is linked back to a person in Great Britain, then that person, having caused the advert to be issued, may be liable for prosecution.

Offenders of the 1968 Act's advertising provisions could face up to £5,000 in fines and/or up to two years in prison.

The Guidance does not apply to remote sports betting advertisements because they are subject to a separate regime.

Click here to view DCMS and the Gambling Commission's Joint Guidance on the Advertisement of Remote Gaming.

Bradley Vallerius

Articles by Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials. Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

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