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TikTok has expanded an existing trial for sports betting advertising on its platform in Australia to include two additional operators.

Advertising trial background

TikTok had never allowed gambling operators to advertise on its platform before November last year when a trial began which allowed Flutter Entertainment-owned Sportsbet – the biggest online betting company in Australia – to place a limited number of ads on the platform.

A report at the time in The Guardian suggested the brand would use the platform’s unique demographic mix to more effectively reach both young people and women.

Ads recommending customers bet on markets such as Rihanna’s Super Bowl half-time performance subsequently began appearing on TikTok in the run-up to the event, for example.

At that point, TikTok said the trial was a “closed pilot […] for one managed client who has obtained permission from TikTok via an application process.”

A spokesperson for the company added that the ads were only shown to users aged 21 or older and were closely monitored. The frequency of the ads was also restricted, and users had the option to opt out of seeing them.

Neds and Dabble join in

Now two new brands – Entain-owned Neds and a relative newcomer on the scene in social media-inspired operator Dabble – have also been approved to begin advertising on TikTok.

While the social media platform’s advertising policies for Australia state that “ads promoting lotteries, poker, casinos, bingo or any other gambling-related content” are prohibited, “advertisers may run sports betting ads on the platform with TikTok’s explicit permission.”

According to a new report in The Guardian, Neds is now encouraging users to download its gambling app, while Dabble is creating content in collaboration with former Australian Football League (AFL) star Dane Swan.

Ads must adhere to local marketing regulations as well as TikTok’s own guidelines, including the mandatory use of Australia’s responsible gambling slogans, such as “chances are you’re about to lose.”

Criticism floods in

However, some still suspect the ads will lead to an increase in gambling-related harm.

Simone McCarthy, a research fellow at Deakin University focused on gambling, told The Guardian that responsible gambling slogans are likely to be less effective on TikTok than on television, as “when you’re watching television, you’re forced to watch that message but on TikTok most users have already swiped to watch another video.”

In addition, concerns abound around operators’ ability to strictly define their audience by age and gender, with young women likely to be targeted with inducements to place bets on non-sporting events, such as reality TV programme Love Island.

Several commentators rushed to Twitter to express their concerns.

Daryl Adair, associate professor in sports management at the University of Technology Sydney’s Business School, said: “The most popular app for kids now a haven for gambling ads. What could go wrong?”

Independent Australian politician Kate Chaney, meanwhile, insisted: “We must effectively regulate this area – communities don’t want this.”

Messages like these are indicative of a wider push in Australia to reduce the amount of gambling advertising currently seen in the country.

Criticism of the industry and its practices has already led to developments such as Entain dropping its shirt sponsorships of Australian sports teams, the mandatory introduction of more discouraging responsible gambling slogans and calls for a wide-ranging crackdown on TV advertising.