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Marketing Slots to Children: Fairy Tale Slots = Criminal? m88 Guilty?

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the United Kingdom is at it again. In its latest overreaching ruling dated May 30, it has determined that casino site m88.com violated advertising rules by depicting images of fairies and other elements that could appeal to children. These “ads” were not broadcast on TV or billboards – they were just graphics representing gaming titles, shown on m88's own website!

About the Complaint

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The matter brought to the attention of the ASA involved graphics for fairy-themed games that were allegedly designed to appeal to young children. The rules that m88.com, a division of Mansion Gibraltar, was accused of breaching were:

CAP Code 16.1 - Marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited.

and

CAP Code 16.3.12 - Marketing communications must not: be likely to be of particular appeal to children or young persons, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture.

The Games in Question

There were three images mentioned by the complainant, a group called Fairer Gambling, which was in the news recently campaigning for lower limits on fixed odds betting terminals. Each of the three graphics represented a specific video slot game. They were:

  • “Fairytale Legends: Red Riding Hood” by Net Entertainment
  • “Fairytale Legends: Hansel & Gretel” by Net Entertainment
  • “Fairies Forest” by NextGen Gaming

These titles could be accessed in demo mode, which anyone can play without logging into his or her account. In order to put real money on the line, a visitor had to log in and play using funds that had been previously deposited to an m88.com account in good standing. While the complaint was under investigation, m88 voluntarily removed the three games from the free-to-play section of its website along with the associated images.

The ASA's Decision

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The ASA considered each of the three games separately when rendering its verdict.

Regarding the Red Riding Hood game, the Authority noted that it was based on a popular children's fairy tale, and the titular character along with the Wolf were rendered in a cartoonish style likely to appeal to those under 18.

The icon associated with the Hansel and Gretel title was deemed to be just a generic representation of a forest setting with “no specific content that would be of particular appeal to children.” Nevertheless, it was based on a fairy tale and thus, almost by definition, catered to young children.

The “Fairies Forest” image was found to depict, shockingly, a fairy: a type of mythological entity very popular among young ones.

Given the reasoning it employed in weighing the particulars of this case, it's no surprise that the ASA upheld all three complaints against the company. m88.com was warned: “The ads must not appear again in their current form.” Never mind the fact that these “ads” were just pictures shown only on the casino's website without any outside distribution. The firm was additionally instructed to make sure that its ads don't especially appeal to children.

Professional Rakeback's Opinion

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In our view, there's a reason why fairy tales appeal to children. It's because they're FUN! They consist of entertaining plots, fantastic creatures and individuals, and a kind of whimsical vivacity that engages adults as well as kids. Is the Advertising Standards Authority saying that these qualities cannot be present in video slots? That would kill the industry!

There are plenty of other types of images that are likely to appeal to minors. Just off the top of our heads: ninjas, superheroes, monsters, wizards, pirates, kittens, food, and Santa Claus. Are all these things forbidden to slot machine developers in the eyes of the ASA? If so, quite a few existing slots would have to be recalled.

No Fun Allowed!Sorry, Guys and Gals; It Seems the ASA Doesn't Like You

Or perhaps it's all right to feature such content in games as long as you don't advertise it – with “advertising” being defined as just showing a picture on the online casino's website. Does this mean the webmasters of gambling sites should start showing random images of items entirely unrelated to the games? Like a photograph of a pumpkin to illustrate a game about Count Dracula? No, wait, bad example: A pumpkin could be deemed a reference to Halloween, which children love.

Or maybe these games and images are totally OK but only if they're displayed in the real money section of a casino and not for use with practice chips. So basically, what this would mean is that people would not be able to play them for free and could only enjoy the gameplay if they're willing to put their own cash at risk. Do the ASA and Fairer Gambling want to promote the idea of games that can only be played if you're willing to gamble it up?

We feel that the ASA is tilting at windmills if it truly believes that it's protecting minors with this ridiculous line of reasoning.

ASA Tilting at Windmills“Astride my trusty steed, CAP Code, I shall rid the world of:
unscrupulous gambling operators, malevolent advertisers, devilish fairies, and other nefarious ne'er-do-wells.”
“Onward, CAP Code! Onward!”

Other Baffling ASA Edicts

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The recent verdict against m88.com wasn't the only time that we feel the ASA stepped over its legitimate bounds. In fact, it upheld six complaints for similar infractions involving cartoonish characters against two other websites, www[dot]fun88.co.uk and www[dot]letou.co.uk, on the same day that it released the m88 ruling.

Earlier in May, gambling affiliate OddsMonkey.com was criticized by the agency merely for keeping a blog of matched betting results. The ASA acted in this manner despite the fact that all the blog posts referenced the actual profits and losses that a user made while engaging in matched betting.

In April, the ASA found a PokerStars advert to be promoting reckless gambling. The ad showed a player bluffing after contemplating the times he had bluffed himself in real life. The Agency felt that the spot gave the impression that the key to poker success was to bluff a lot regardless of other strategic considerations.

Online Gaming Under Fire

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The ASA's attitude toward real money gaming is just an example of a global trend. Many jurisdictions around the world are making it tougher for people to bet online. In Australia, a few states have implemented point of consumption taxes on internet wagering, and more are expected to join in shortly. In the same country, restrictive advertising rules prevent sports betting ads from running during live game broadcasts. In China, the authorities have moved to ban play money social poker apps.

Yet, there is a countervailing trend gaining strength. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a federal ban on state-licensed sports betting. And on the other side of the globe in Japan, the government is trying to pass a bill that would authorize brick-and-mortar casinos, including poker cardrooms.