TikTok Pilots Gambling Ads in Australia
‘Humorous Viral Videos’ with Sports Betting Branding
A short video of a young woman “pretending” to know horse racing to impress her crush or a young man elaborating on how local cricketers would plan a wedding. It is only the mandatory per Australian law “Gamble Responsibly” tagline and the Sportsbet branding that tells this is a gambling ad produced as a ‘humorous viral video’ on TikTok.
The sportsbook ad campaign is a part of a “strictly controlled advertising pilot” that has currently been launched only in Australia, according to a TikTok spokesperson. A number of experts have voiced their concerns over the appearance of gambling ads on the youth’s preferred social media platform.
According to Professor Samantha Thomas, a gambling researcher at Deakin University, the humorous video approach boosts the appeal of gambling ads and makes “a significant impact on the normalisation of gambling for young people”.
“They’re not obviously ads, but they’re still promoting the brand,” Thomas said. “When we talk to young people about what they remember in terms of gambling ads, the things that they most recall are the funny videos.”
Gambling Ads Exception for Australia
TikTok prohibits any casino app and betting-related advertising in Oceania, but makes a single exception for Australia.
“A closed pilot for sports betting is currently in operation for one managed client who has obtained permission from TikTok via an application process,” the company’s Advertising Policies for Australia and New Zealand say.
Outside the exception, TikTok’s policies applicable to Oceania prohibit “ads promoting fantasy sports, bingo or other gambling related content,” as well as “ads coming from a gambling brand or featuring gambling branding” and “ads sponsored by gambling brands”.
The social media platform says that the pilot is a closely monitored “limited trial” in order to ensure a “safe experience” for users. People under 21 have not been exposed to the sports betting ads, the ads frequency has been limited, and an “opt-out feature” is being introduced, TikTok said.
Australia Has the Biggest Per Capita Loss on Gambling
Australia is among the markets with the highest per capita loss on gambling activities in the world, and in 2018-19 even topped the list when Australians cumulatively lost $25 billion on the game, according to data by the Australian Gambling Research Centre.
TikTok is only the 8th most used social media platform in Australia, but is capable of reaching an advertising audience of 7 million people out of the country’s 25-million population, as per estimates by the Digital 2022 Australia report.
Notably, the average time spent per month by Australians on the TikTok app has jumped by a whopping 40 percent year-on-year to the highest figure for all social media of 23.4 hours. The average monthly time on Facebook has fallen by 3 percent, while on Instagram has risen by 2 percent.
Professor Thomas condemns TikTok’s decision to allow gambling ads. “We know this is a platform that is really appealing and engaging for young people,” she says. “It’s really concerning for us to start to see these types of posts coming onto the platform.”
According to Dr. Nicholas Carah, University of Queensland digital cultures and societies director, many young users sign up to social platforms before they reach the permissible age and this creates a big problem with advertising related to harmful industries.
Advertising on Social Media Lacks Regulation
Australian federal regulations on advertising of gambling are strict enough on TV, radio and sporting events streaming, but do not cover social media channels.
“There are some regulations that are very much focused on television-based advertising, but we know that social media platforms are perhaps most of the media viewing of young people,” professor Thomas comments and calls for “very strong restrictions” on gambling advertising by the federal government.
Dr. Carah thinks TikTok is just testing the waters with the Sportsbet ads pilot, and the company’s future moves depend on the reactions and how much “heat” it gets from the public and the regulators.
“And I think they’re going to bring many of these harmful advertisers into the stable to test them out and see if it turns out to be a relationship that benefits Tiktok,” he says.
If Dr. Carah is right, we might witness a surge of TikTok advertising of gambling or other industries deemed harmful in other markets as well, before regulators start stepping in by restricting or regulating the ads, or, in other words, another cat-and-mouse classic.