Have you ever seen a gambling machine or website that was all too conspicuously aimed at children? British regulators certainly have. The country’s Gambling Commission and advertising overseers have ordered over 450 gambling sites to “immediately” remove casino games they say are targeting the under-18 crowd. The cartoonish graphics, cute characters and even game names (such as Piggy Payout) serve as gambling advertising that’s “likely” to appeal to kids, according to an official letter. And these aren’t just free titles — bets range as high as £600 (about $792), so this could be particularly damaging if a child got access.
The crackdown follows an investigation from the Times that showed gambling sites taking advantage of a “loophole” they believed let them make child-oriented games without violating Gambling Commission rules. They used age verification checks for anyone who wanted to play for money, but you could play for free without any kind of checks. And that’s where the problem was — the free-to-play experience was effectively a sales pitch, even if it was just to sell young visitors on the concept of gambling.
Some in the industry have denied intentionally marketing to kids, but they don’t all object. William Hill, one of the sites asked to take down some casino games, is welcoming the order. It’s not hard to see why it might help in the long run. Although this will remove more than a few games, it could force gambling companies (including those beyond the UK) to mend their image by focusing their attention on adults. Whatever short-term losses they face might be more than offset by the reduced amounts of legal scrutiny and bad press.