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Silvia Pavlof February 27, 2023 3 min read
Australian Gambling Support Services Face Online Advert Blockade
Online platforms like social media companies and search engines use algorithms and human oversight to automatically block adverts that mention gambling to comply with advertising regulations
The Guardian reported that Australian gambling harm services have complained that their rehabilitation adverts are being wrongly blocked while there has been an increase in wagering advertising, especially following Sportsbet’s partnership with TikTok.
Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation Ads Blocked by Google
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF) has had its adverts for Gambler’s Help, its treatment service, automatically blocked by Google. The foundation argues that its harm minimization programs are being unfairly conflated with gambling industry offers and promotions. The foundation is concerned that individuals at risk of gambling harm are being exposed to ads that encourage gambling while ads for help services are being blocked.
A VRGF spokesperson claimed that unblocking the ads was a lengthy and ineffective process. The spokesperson also stated that the issue has been ongoing for years and has become a significant problem with Google’s display and video advertising network. As a result, the foundation no longer buys this inventory.
A Google spokesperson disputed the VRGF’s claims and said that the measures were in place to keep ads safe and appropriate for everyone. The spokesperson acknowledged that the blocking of some ads was inadvertent and due to an over-cautious algorithm.
However, Google claimed that once it was made aware of the issue, it worked quickly to reinstate the blocked ads. The spokesperson apologized for any inconvenience caused to the VRGF.
Another example comes from the US. A gambling addiction treatment service complained about its adverts being blocked by TikTok. The organization received emails confirming that other similar services have also experienced issues.
Although gambling promotions are banned on TikTok, last year, the Chinese-owned social media company agreed to allow Sportsbet to target Australian users as part of a strictly controlled trial. However, TikTok claims that these ads were only shown to users aged 21 or older, and their frequency was restricted. Users could also opt out of seeing these ads.
University Professor Advocates for Opt-Out Function for Gambling Ads on Social Media
Prof Sally Gainsbury, the director of the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic at the University of Sydney, believes that social media is increasingly being used to deliver highly targeted ads to existing and potential gamblers.
While this is viewed as a legitimate commercial marketing strategy, research suggests that people who have difficulty controlling their betting are most likely to be impacted by these types of ads. Therefore, gambling harm services must find ways to counteract this form of advertising.
Gainsbury acknowledges that it can be challenging to control ads on social media, but she believes that customers should be able to opt out of marketing, just as individuals can self-exclude from accessing their gambling accounts.
This can be achieved by providing individuals with the option to opt out of receiving gambling-related ads on social media platforms. By doing so, it is hoped that this will reduce the negative impact of gambling advertising on vulnerable individuals.