The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has levied its first – but likely not last – six-figure fine against an online gambling operator for advertising that led punters down the garden path.
On Tuesday, the UKGC announced that it had imposed a £300k penalty against BGO Entertainment Ltd for “misleading advertising on its own and its affiliates’ websites.” The UKGC cited nine adverts on BGO’s website and 14 more ads on BGO-affiliated third party websites that were deemed to have breached social responsibility codes.
The notice indicates that the UKGC began probing BGO’s marketing following the 2015 imposition of new social responsibility code provisions as a condition for holding a UKGC license. These new requirements made it plain that advertisements “must state significant limitations and qualifications.”
The new conditions also insisted that marketing material – including social media and affiliate marketing – “must not amount to or involve misleading actions or misleading omissions.” UKGC licensees were deemed responsible for the actions and behaviors of third parties with whom they contract.
The UKGC claims that BGO “failed to take prompt and effective action” to address issues identified by the regulator despite BGO “repeatedly” providing assurances to the UKGC that it understood its obligations and was taking action to remedy its shortcomings.
BGO also failed to comply with the recommendations of a Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) audit that BGO itself had commissioned in May 2016 to reassure the UKGC of its desire to amend its bad behavior. The UKGC said it found “evidence of ongoing breaches” on BGO’s affiliate websites as late as October 2016.
The UKGC ultimately concluded that BGO had failed to take timely and effective action to address its breaches and had furthermore provided “inaccurate assurances” that it had amended its wicked ways. In addition to the financial penalty, the UKGC hit BGO with a formal warning, which will remain on file and will be taken into account if further regulatory shortcomings are identified.
The UKGC strongly urged other online licensees to read its decision notice and adjust their behavior accordingly lest they too find themselves bent over the UKGC’s knee. UKGC program director Paul Hope noted that the issues identified in the notice “are likely to form the basis for future compliance assessments and could lead to enforcement action.”