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Brand Strategy Marketing Gambling

Has Ladbrokes improved odds on gambling marketing ban?

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By Gordon Young, Editor-in-Chief

July 31, 2023 | 6 min read

Editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Drum Gordon Young questions whether a UK bookmaker’s surprise pivot into music will inspire tighter rules for the sector.

Ladbrokes

Never bet against the bookies. Despite new ad restrictions, the big companies are adept at finding new channels to woo potential gamblers.

For example, Ladbrokes has just launched a new platform Ladbrokes Live, which is a partnership with the 02, AEG and NME. It will see it giving away thousands of music and comedy tickets as it seeks to position itself as an entertainment brand.

The UK has been tightening its ad and sponsorship regulations making it hard for the bookies to reach audiences via traditional channels. Especially in football.

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So they have embraced concepts such as advertising-funded content - PaddyPower has launched comedy shows and Coral documentaries for example.

The Ladbrokes move is the latest iteration of this move. But one wonders if such initiatives may be an own goal. Regulation around gambling marketing remains a controversial issue.Earlier this summer, for example, The Guardian announced it was banning all gambling advertising from its platforms. CEO Anne Bateson said at the time “Guardian journalists have reported on the devastating impact of the gambling industry in the UK and Australia, helping to shift the dial and ensure the issue remains high on the public agenda. Studies highlight a clear correlation between exposure to gambling advertising and increased intentions to engage in regular gambling.”This move goes beyond virtual signalling - analysts say it will cost them millions.

The unease stems from the fact that gambling addiction is particularly insidious.

By the time addicts hit rock bottom, every aspect of their life has been devastated which is why, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, one in five problem gamblers attempt suicide, which is twice the rate of other addictions.

Meanwhile, reported the FT, 60% of the industry’s profits come from 5% of users. With most gambling migrating online and in this era of programmatic, big data and AI - the odds are stacked against them if they want to quit.

There is pressure on Governments - and other media owners - to follow The Guardian’s example. There is no doubt that an absolute prohibition of gambling advertising would be worth a bet in markets such as the UK and Australia.

But at the moment an uneasy equilibrium exists - tough regulations prevent the industry from targeting vulnerable groups such as under 18s on one hand, and on the other, the media get to benefit from chunky gambling budgets - worth £1.5bn in the UK alone.

The libertarian arguments hold sway that gambling is hard-wired into human nature, and will exist no matter what central governments do.

So better to keep it in the open, where it can be regulated and taxed, providing society as a whole the financial resource to deal with those who need help.

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But the debate is finely balanced. The UK Advertising Standards Authority announced new rules last year which specifically stated that gambling ads must not, ‘be likely to be of strong appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.’The new Ladbrokes Live platform falls outside the remit of the ASA. However, one cannot help but think it also falls outside the spirit of the rules, if not the letter.

Ladbroke's move into music will embolden those calling for an outright ban.

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