Online gambling giant 888 has agreed to pull part of its new ad campaign from London’s public transport system after it became a political football for opponents of the city’s incumbent mayor Sadiq Khan (Labour Party).

888 ad campaign, London mayoral race, elections, Sadiq Khan, Susan Hall
Conservative Party candidate Susan Hall is using 888’s campaign as a stick with which to beat London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Halls is questioning why Transport for London has previously banned promotions for artisan cheese but chose to approve the in-your-face online gambling ads. (Image: Evening Standard)

The 888 campaign rolled out over the past few weeks on trains, buses, taxis, and the London Underground, the UK capital’s subway network. It bears slogans such as “this carriage is now a casino” and “this bus is now a casino.”

A week before the London mayoral election, the tone of the campaign has sparked criticism of Transport for London’s (TfL) advertising policy, and the buck stops with the mayor, according to his opponents.

‘Baffling Londoners’

Khan’s Conservative Party rival, Susan Hall pointed out that TfL previously banned advertising for artisan cheese and a promotion for the Wimbledon tennis championships that featured strawberries and cream. That was on the grounds that these foods were unhealthy. She queried why ads for online casinos were then OK.

Sadiq Khan’s inconsistency in what [ads] he allows and what ones he bans is baffling for Londoners,” Hall, told The Guardian. “He is … banning adverts featuring cheese or strawberries and cream, while being completely relaxed about vaping and gambling.”

“We need a common sense, clear approach to this, not one that allows the mayor … to play favorites,” she suggested.

Meanwhile, the Peers for Gambling Reform group in the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house, called the ads “aggressive” and contradictory to Khan’s 2021 manifesto pledge, which promised to ban gambling promotions on the London Underground.

Making a Scene

Aside from the campaign’s unintended political backlash, ordinary Londoners have reported finding the ads brash and resent being informed their chosen mode of transport is a casino.

The UK gambling industry has taken steps to tone down its advertising in recent years to ward off tightening regulatory controls and prevent inflaming gambling critics. In fact, this is exactly the kind of scene it has carefully sought to avoid creating.

Sensing it had slipped up, 888 told The Guardian Friday it would withdraw “some” of the ads, without saying which ones.  

“We continuously listen to feedback regarding the effectiveness of our advertising campaigns and acknowledge that, whilst fully compliant with all advertising regulations and standards, our latest campaign could be interpreted in a different manner to the brand position we aim for,” a company spokesperson said.

“As a result, we have decided to change the focus of this campaign and are withdrawing certain adverts that are currently running,” they added.

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