A Facebook advert for a gambling app featuring young football players including Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Kylian Mbappé has been banned by the advertising regulator.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against Football Index, a Jersey-based website that allows users to trade virtual shares in players on a platform modelled on the stock market.
Its advert offered users the chance of “handsome profits” if they traded shares in 19-year-old Sancho, who plays for the German team Borussia Dortmund. The advert also featured 18-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, 21, Manchester City’s Sterling, 24, and the 20-year-old French World Cup winner Mbappé, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain.
The code governing non-broadcast advertising dictates that nobody under 25 should be depicted gambling or play a significant role in a gambling advert unless the ad is displayed in a place where a bet can be made, such as a bookmaker’s premises or website. The ASA said the advert breached the code and told Football Index that it must not be shown again.
Football Index accepted the ASA’s ruling. Its marketing director, Mike Bohan, said: “We have reviewed our marketing practices to ensure they are compliant with the advertising regulations and accurately represent Football Index’s socially responsible platform.” “We now consider the matter closed.”
On Tuesday, a wide-ranging report by the thinktank Demos said advertising regulations were routinely flouted on social media, exposing tens of thousands of under-16s to gambling messages.
There is also mounting scrutiny of the role played by gambling in sport and the way betting companies promote themselves, particularly via social media.
Derby County were criticised for a tie-up with the online casino 32Red under which the former England forward Wayne Rooney will wear the number 32 on his shirt this season.
Betting companies agreed this year to a voluntary ban on advertising during televised sport, in response to public concern about the effect on children of wall-to-wall gambling promotions, particularly at weekends when football is shown. However, half of Premier League teams still promote a gambling company on their shirt.
Researchers at Demos and the University of Bristol analysed more than 880,000 tweets and raised particular concern about esports, or competitive video games such as Fortnite. The Demos report, titled Biddable Youth, said 28% of retweets or replies to gambling tweets about esports were posted by children under 16.
It said 74% of esports tweets and 68% of traditional sports tweets appeared not to comply with advertising regulations, for example presenting gambling as an income source or encouraging gambling at unsociable times of day.
Prof Agnes Nairn, of the University of Bristol, said parents were often unaware that their children were being bombarded with gambling promotions.
“Our in-depth analysis of the content of gambling advertising tweets leads us to believe that children’s esports gambling is currently under the radar in two ways: it’s online, where parents won’t see it, and it’s using clever content marketing such as amusing gifs, memes, pictures and funny stories, designed to appeal to and implicitly influence young people,” Nairn said.
The report called on technology companies to make better use of age verification tools and screening technology to block children from seeing gambling ads.