One of the UK’s leading gaming brands allegedly paid for blogs advising new mothers to recommend its online casino games and link to its website, in a tactic that has been condemned as “predatory” by major players. experts in addictions and mental health.
Coral has struck deals with parenting bloggers to insert links into posts offering advice, including on how to ease the stress of caring for a new baby.
One post, supposedly about baby food recipes, read: “If as a mom you can’t leave the house, why not consider online bingo?
“You can click here to play online bingo in Coral – this momentary break from childcare can be beneficial.”
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidelines state that gambling ads should not be “socially irresponsible”, including presenting gambling as a way to alleviate loneliness or depression.
Another parenting blog recommended “rich online roulette games that are easy to learn and can also provide some useful wins.”
The ASA guidelines also state that gambling should not be presented as a “solution to financial concerns.”
Three other parenting blogs posted parenting articles that also contained segments recommending online casinos or bingo and links to the Coral website.
A source familiar with the arrangements said Coral had paid bloggers to include the links.
Such games tend to be more popular with women than sports betting. Major gaming operators have sought to expand their customer base in recent years by targeting women, who have historically gambled less than men.
Entain, which owns Coral, said the articles linking to Coral’s website were published between 2014 and 2016, before it bought Ladbrokes Coral in 2018.
On Tuesday, the company said it would try to remove them as soon as possible, though they remained live on Sunday.
“Neither Coral nor any Entain brand actively targets young mothers or any other potentially vulnerable group through the use of affiliate marketing,” a spokesperson said.
The company added that it “was unable to prevent third parties from linking to our gaming sites.”
The source, who used to work for a company that arranged such deals with bloggers, said Coral staff had read the articles and signed off on them before publication.
Entain added: “We do not make payments to any of the sites in the examples provided.”
However, he did not say if Coral had done so in the past.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director of mental health, said: “It is cynical that betting companies target new and single mothers at a time in their lives when they may be suffering from stress, lack of sleep and problems that make them particularly vulnerable.
“This is yet another example of predatory behavior from a gaming industry worth billions every year, while at the same time the NHS is investing more than ever in mental health support for new mothers.
Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, said: “The direct targeting of new mothers by inserting a bingo ad into a page about baby food recipes is deeply disturbing and must be denounced.
“Gambling is not a way out of psychological distress and these embedded messages take advantage of people’s circumstances knowing that they may be home alone for much longer periods than ever before.
“These are all gambling ads hiding in broad daylight, it may be less obvious to someone new to gambling that these messages encourage people to play for the first time.”
Only one of the blog posts revealed that the links contained in the article were the result of a sponsorship deal or affiliate marketing.
The Guardian has chosen not to name the blogs because the authors could not be reached for comment.
The source said the practice was primarily aimed at manipulating Google search results by creating an association between women and online casino and bingo gaming.
Entain said the links did not provide it with any search engine benefit.