A number of online gaming and betting companies have landed themselves in hot water following the discovery of “fake news” articles with referral links to affiliated sites.

The operational ethics of the gaming affiliate industry has come under increased scrutiny within the last fortnight, following an investigation by the Guardian exposing that “tipsters” could be earning as much as 30% on losses from deliberately misleading recommendations. This led to Sky Betting & Gaming closing the entirety of its affiliate activity as result.

The latest storm stems from a ‘news’ post detailing the fictional story of ‘William’, who paid off his wife’s £130,000 medical bill with winnings from a gambling site and fulfill her dream of a trip to Bora Bora.

Hosted on sites with names such as ‘www.uk.24hoursnews.co’, “near-identical” versions of the ad were found – promoting Ladbrokes, Sky Betting & Gaming, 888 and Casumo – designed to prey on the “vulnerable”, with unclear ad signposting and the suggestion that gambling was a means of escaping personal problems.

Both of those attributes saw the betting sites in breach of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) regulations, with the same companies quick to distance themselves from the ads; 888 reportedly removed the ad as soon it was made aware, terminating its relationship with the agency responsible. The case was recorded by the ASA here.

Sky Betting, meanwhile, cited the controversy as another case study justifying its departure from the affiliate industry for good, while Ladbrokes suggested an ongoing reduction in affiliate activity would be on the table, telling Management Today, “We have been reducing the number of affiliates we work with as well as clamping down hard on anyone using our name without our knowledge in a bid to curtail this sort of activity going forward.”

Following the ASA’s intervening off the back of a number of consumer complaints, the same ad reportedly resurfaced on a similar “fake news” affiliate site promoting the Ladbrokes-owned Gala Bingo site.

With gaming representing one of affiliate marketing’s biggest sectors, there’s understandably been exasperation among the wider industry, with concerns over the damage and disreputation these high-profile cases will have on whitehat affiliate marketing, which has long faced the challenge of distinguishing itself from this sort of activity.

In the Facebook group Affiliate Cockpit, the director of performance marketing platform Blue Owl Network, commented, “I really don’t think you get any lower than this, it’s crazy, fully aware 888 and others tangled up in this won’t have had any idea this was going on but regulators don’t care, we have seen similar tactics in financial services too, where I am sure the FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] will take much harsher action than the ASA.”