Four online gambling sites are in hot water with UK regulators over internet advertisements masquerading as news. Fake news, if you will. 888, Ladbrokes, Casumo, and Sky Vegas were all scolded by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the country’s independent regulator for advertising, but it does not appear that there will be any monetary punishment.

The ads appeared on a couple fly-by-night crap websites that new longer exists, some in March, some in June. They were labeled as “advertorials,” which are supposedly editorial pieces paid for by an advertiser, but really, these ads were made to look like news items.

They started with the clickbait headline, “On Their Wedding Night He Delivered A Secret She Wasn’t Ready For. The Result Will Have You In Tears,” and then went into the rags-to-riches story of a guy named William. From the ASA ruling:

… William is also over £130,000 in debt after having to sell the house and continue to pay out of pocket for his wife’s cancer related medical bills their insurance WOULDN’T cover … William took to Facebook one night in the hospital lobby to update his friends and family on his wife’s health A little tired and admittedly a bit depressed, William stumbled upon an ad for Ladbrokes casino. With little to no money to spend he admits he laughed and almost scrolled past it until he saw they were offering a promotion to that [sic] would reward him with 600 Free Chances At Age of The Gods Game which at over £700,000.00 was too hard to pass up.

Variations of the ad used a different game in the copy, but the message was the same. William won the jackpot and solved all of his life’s problems through gambling. Yay, William!

There were even fake “reader” comments after the “article” from people claiming to have also done well gambling on the site.

After the ASA had received complaints about the ads and investigated, the gambling sites said that the advertisements were created by affiliates and that the gambling sites themselves would never have produced such a thing if it were up to them. The ASA took that into account, but that didn’t sway the regulator much.

Regulations state that “ads must not suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal problems such as depression or that it can be a solution to financial concerns,” something that these hack fake news ads certainly do.

“It explained that through gambling he won enough money to pay off his wife’s medical bills, re-purchase the house that had been sold to alleviate his debt and to pay for his expensive honeymoon,” the ASA said of the ad in its ruling about 888. “The image of the bank statement shown in the ad indicated that William was over drawn when he made the decision to place a £10 bet with 888. The ad further stated that ‘Down on his luck their ‘200 Free Jackpot Chances’ turned his life around.’”

The ASA reprimanded the gambling firms, telling them that they cannot run the ad again in its “current form,” and that “future ads, including those prepared by affiliates, must be clearly identifiable as marketing communications and to take care to ensure their ads were prepared in a socially responsible way.”

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