Published: May 5, 2019

Monopoly-themed online gambling ad faces UK regulator’s ban

Breaches code which protects children from being targeted, ASA claims

An advert for a Monopoly-themed online casino game is to be banned by the advertising regulator over concern that use of the board game’s familiar cartoon mascot – Rich Uncle Pennybags – might appeal to children.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that the ad, which appeared on the Mirror Online website, breached its code, which says that gambling ads must not be designed to appeal to young people.

The ban comes amid mounting concern about the exposure of children to gambling, through channels including television adsfootball shirt sponsorshipcomputer gamesapps and social media.

A Gambling Commission audit released last year revealed that the number of problem gamblers aged 11 to 16 had risen significantly to 55,000 over two years, prompting concern over a “generational scandal”.

The ASA has yet to publish its ruling but the Guardian understands that the regulator has told Entertaining Play, the Gibraltar-based company behind the game, that it must not appear again.

The Right Rev Dr Alan Smith, the bishop of St Albans, welcomed the ruling, and said the advert was “yet more evidence” that gambling companies are targeting children.

“Monopoly is beloved by young people and there was no doubt that a smiling cartoon character which is the logo of this family board game will appeal to children.

“Board games should be allowed to remain board games and must be off-limits to gambling companies pushing boundaries in order to normalise highly addictive casino games,” Smith said.

“I hope other companies that stoop to these tactics take note and remove similar adverts,” he added.

Entertaining Play, whose parent company, Gamesys, also manages gambling products using Richard Branson’s Virgin brand, argued that the character of Mr Monopoly, or Rich Uncle Pennybags, was not likely to be attractive to children.

It said the character was dressed in adult attire and “did not possess exaggerated features and did not mimic any style of cartoon character seen in current children’s programming”.

The company added that the colours used in the ad were not “garish or overly vibrant and did not draw inspiration from youth culture” and that it had taken steps to ensure it was only targeted at over-18s.

Mirror Online told the ASA it did not believe the ad would appeal to children and included a label reading 18+.

But the ASA said there was no way to ensure under-18s would not be exposed to the ad and that it did not comply with the code.

“We considered that Monopoly was a family game generally played by or with children, and that under-18s would therefore recognise and find the ad’s references to it appealing,” it said.

“In addition, the ad featured a prominent image of the Mr Monopoly character which had exaggerated features reminiscent of a children’s cartoon, which meant the image would also be appealing to under-18s.

“Taking account of the ad as a whole, we considered that the use of the Monopoly logo and the depiction of the Mr Monopoly character meant that the ad was likely to appeal more to under-18s than to over-18s.”

Hasbro, which publishes Monopoly, and Gamesys did not respond to requests for comment.

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