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22Bet targets Kiwis in aggressive marketing campaign fronted by Brendon McCullum

17 March 2023
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How did this start?

PGF Group and the DIA received several complaints from YouTube users who were being bombarded with adverts for 22Bet which appeared to come from “ghost accounts” and were clearly targeted to a New Zealand audience.

The adverts featuring McCullum offered hundreds of dollars in free bets as a signup bonus and included misleading statements such as “22Bet is a highly trusted bookmaker in New Zealand”.

Who is 22Bet?

22Bet is an online gambling platform that offers sports betting, casino games, and live dealer games. It was launched in 2017 and is owned and operated by Marikit Holdings Ltd, which is a company registered in Cyprus and a subsidiary of Orakum N.V. The ownership of that company isn’t widely known, although there have been reports of links to individuals in Russia and Central Asia.

Hang on, isn’t online gambling legal in New Zealand?

NZ Lotteries and the New Zealand TAB are the only two gambling organisations that can operate in New Zealand and are controlled under New Zealand law. It’s also illegal for overseas online gambling operators to advertise in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, Kiwis can gamble on overseas online gambling websites but do so at their own risk.

So what happened next?

PGF Group wrote to the Department of Internal Affairs to express our concern about 22Bet.

'Serious concern' over Brendon McCullum YouTube gambling ads:

22Bet was aggressively advertising on YouTube, getting around NZ law by utilising an international platform and using “ghost accounts” to increase their reach. Our concern focused on the clear targeting of the New Zealand market, particularly with a well-known Kiwi fronting the ads, and the offering of inducements to Kiwis who signed up to the gambling site.

We were also concerned that Kiwis signing up to gamble on 22Bet would not be aware that the operator is based overseas and they wouldn’t therefore be protected by NZ law.

Why is online gambling harmful?

The Internet brings a form of gambling that never stops right into our homes and into our pockets via our smartphones. People who may have found casinos or other gambling venues inaccessible now have unlimited access to lottery sites, casino sites, and poker sites. Having 24/7 access to electronic gambling sites puts people at even greater risk of developing gambling problems.

Data shows that men across all age groups gamble on overseas websites more than women. However other research also showed that younger males, Asian and Māori are more likely to have participated in overseas gambling and are more likely to be considering this form of gambling.

And what was the response?

The response from the DIA was limited. From Complaint made over Brendon McCullum 22Bet gambling ad:

"Though we take online gambling very seriously, under the current Act, the Department, as the gambling regulator, is limited in what measures we can take…as 22Bet is conducted overseas, and as YouTube is an international website not specifically hosted within NZ, any advertisements displayed on these platforms would not be prohibited under the Act. If 22Bet was being advertised through an NZ-based content provider, then the advertising would be illegal…

We are currently looking at avenues we can pursue, including contacting 22Bet [and] advising them to change ... misleading marketing and advertising which insinuates in any way that they are a New Zealand-based gambling operator."

Meanwhile, the ECB said it had looked at the matter from a "regulatory and employer perspective" and they believed that the anti-corruption code signed up to by their players and coaches does not prohibit such roles, so no further action would be taken.

It is also reported that McCullum is reportedly set to end his association with the bookmaker.

Meanwhile Google, who is responsible for YouTube have removed the adverts: “Google has strict policies that govern the kind of ads we allow on our platform. In this instance, we’ve found the ads violate our policies and we have removed them”.

Where does this leave things?

Although the ads are gone, there are still issues with the current rules in New Zealand.

Briefing to the new Minister responsible for the DIA: “online gambling is one of the riskier forms of gambling as it is continuous, easily accessible, and easy to hide…New Zealanders are largely unprotected from overseas online gambling as it is unregulated and not addressed in the Gambling Act 2003…PGF strongly recommends the regulation of online gambling in Aotearoa New Zealand.”[AF1] [GH2]

Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has expressed support for the review of the Gambling Act, which was implemented 20 years ago following Google’s removal of 22Bet ads from YouTube.

So, what’s the best advice about online gambling?

When using online gambling websites, it is important to be careful as some sites may be untrustworthy (for example, they may not guarantee your odds) and may have been designed to fleece you from your money. If the site or app doesn’t look trustworthy, do not use it.

Remember, the more time you spend on any gambling or gaming apps, the more money you’re likely to lose.

For more information, click here.