The advertising watchdog has used child avatars to find and ban ads from five gambling operators targeted at children.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) worked with a data and analytics firm to create seven online avatars to reflect the browsing characteristics of children aged six to seven, eight to 12 and 16, an adult, a person of an indeterminate age and a profile reflecting an adult and a child using the same device.
It identified adverts by 43 gambling operators in non-logged-in online environments over a two-week monitoring period last year.
Five of those gambling operators – NetEnt Product Ltd trading as Vikings Video Slot, Evoke Gaming Ltd trading as RedBet, Multilotto UK Ltd, Platinum Gaming Ltd trading as Unibet and Skill On Net Ltd trading as PlayOjo, had their ads banned for breaking rules which prohibit gambling ads being targeted at under 18s.
The ASA said 23 individual gambling ads were seen by the child avatars a total of 151 times on 11 of the children’s websites monitored.
Vikings Video Slot was responsible for 10 ads and 122 of the ad impressions (81% of the 151).
The ASA said the gambling operators had accepted their ads broke the rules, but had in most instances blamed the problems on errors by third-party companies.
The ASA has instructed the companies to take immediate action to review their online ads, ensure they are not served to web users aged under 18 and to put in place measures to ensure the breach is not repeated.
The watchdog said it was now exploring extending the technology to logged-in environments such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter and for monitoring exposure to online ads for high fat, salt or sugar food and drink products and alcohol.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “Online ads are subject to the same strict rules that apply elsewhere and this important new monitoring capability delivers on our commitment to having more impact online.
“It’s already allowed us to spot a problem with a small number of gambling operators and take quick and effective action to ensure children are protected from irresponsibly-targeted gambling ads.
“We’re already looking at expanding this work, as well as exploring how other new technologies can help us protect the public.”