Online-gambling opponents say they’ve spotted ads promoting online betting on children’s game sites and alongside articles about gambling addiction. They’re trying to use this to convince Congress and the Justice Department to reverse a 2011 decision that opened the door for states to permit internet gambling.
A source close to the legislative fight shared screenshots of casino advertising in places they say it doesn’t belong. The ads appear on pages with headlines such as “Twelve Ways To Stop Gambling Addiction Forever” and a gaming website called GirlsGoGames.com.
But the ads aren’t actually targeting kids or gambling addicts. Instead, they’re the kind that follow users around the internet, like, say a promotion for a hotel in San Francisco might keep appearing after someone searches for flights to the city. They’re called retargeting ads by the industry.
A Business Insider search of the same pages screenshotted by the advocates turned up a totally different set of ads.
That doesn’t matter though to opponents of online gaming, who said the fact unrestricted advertising exists at all is a problem.
Former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who works with the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, a group backed by Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, compared the promotions to cigarette ads that are no longer permitted under law.
“You used to have the Marlboro man, you used to have those ads,” she told Business Insider. “Congress in its wisdom and some in the industry determined it was not appropriate. The advertising part of it is exactly what hooks kids and seniors who are desperate, who are marginalized individuals and trying to feed a family.”
Advertisers do have the ability to restrict which websites their programmatic ads can appear on, but the system isn’t perfect, and some sites are able to slip through the cracks even if they are restricted by the advertiser. One advertising expert told Business Insider that the website where the ads appear is more at fault for their appearance than the online gambling advertiser whose ads appeared.
The issue received some attention in the British press late last year after similar ads were found because of loopholes in the United Kingdom’s advertising laws. The UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice has since set new regulations, which are to take effect next month.