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ASA ruling on Merkur Cashino Ltd

Published on 21 January 2020

Can ads on the back of bus tickets be seen to target protected age categories?

The key takeaway

The ASA found that a gambling advert placed by Cashino Gaming Ltd on a child’s bus ticket did not breach CAP Code rule 16.3.13. This was because: 
  • the ad was deemed to not be directed at under-18s through the selection of media or context in which it appeared; and
  • under-18s did not make up more than 25% of the audience.
The ad

In May, an advert for Merkur Cashino was seen on the back of a child’s bus ticket on a route that served a number of local schools. The ad read: “£5 Free Plays on a machine of your choice with this ticket!”.

The complaint

A complaint was made, suggesting that the ad was inappropriately targeted at those below 18 years of age.

The response

The CAP Code stipulates that “marketing communications for gambling must not be directed at those aged younger than 18 years through the selection of media or context in which they appeared”. The ASA also requires marketers to demonstrate that protected age categories ie under-18s, do not make up more than 25% of the audience. 
Cashino Gaming Ltd (trading as Merkur Cashino) argued that the ads were not likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s. The company also stated that its ad agency, TicketMedia, had confirmed that children aged between five and 15 years old made up 23.1% of its passengers. 

National Express West Midlands, the bus operator, also stated that only 27% of all journeys in a term-time week were made by passengers who bought a ticket, and the vast majority of those were adults. 

The decision 

As outlined above, the ASA found that the ad did not contravene the CAP Code. This is because it found that:
  • ads on bus tickets were not in media “specifically directed at under 18s”;
  • the ad’s audience was less than 25% under 18s (a high of 15% in term-time).
While the ad appeared on the back of a child’s bus ticket, the ASA determined that ads on the back of bus tickets did not appear in media specifically targeted at under 18s. The ASA also identified that the highest percentage of child tickets issued on that bus route was 15% during term time.

The ASA did reflect that such an ad might contravene the CAP code on a route that served a number of schools, as the audience in such a case might be more than 25% under-18s. However, that was not the case on this particular route or with this particular bus ticket. 

Why is this important?

The decision comes in a climate where the ASA is more proactively clamping down on gambling adverts that breach the CAP Code. Indeed, in October, online casino Casumo was forced to retract an ad that actively targeted gambling addicts. 

Any practical tips? 

The case highlights the need to always step back and consider where regulated products (here, gambling but it could equally have been alcohol) are advertised. The key question to ask is “will kids see this?” and, if there’s a chance, then stop and think how real the risk is. To show just how carefully you need to think about this, the ASA’s ruling shows that if the bus ticket had been used on a route which served a number of schools, then the outcome might have been very different.