Children’s exposure to gambling ads on television increased last year despite their viewing continuing to decrease in favour of online platforms, the advertising regulator has reported.

Viewers under the age of 16 saw an average of 2.8 ads for gambling a week on TV in 2020, up from 2.5 in 2019, a “small” increase but one the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it would “keep a close eye on”.

Within this, children’s exposure to lottery and scratch card ads increased marginally on 2019 and exposure to bingo ads remained at similar levels to the three preceding years.

Exposure to sports betting remained at its lowest level ever since its peak in 2011, although this was during a year when sports events were disrupted by the pandemic.

But the overall increase in exposure to gambling ads on TV came as children’s viewing continued to decline to an average of 6.9 hours per week.

Their exposure to alcohol ads on TV remained equal to 2019 at an average of 0.9 a week, or approximately 19.7 seconds.

Alcohol ads made up 0.9% of all TV ads seen by children last year, with the majority for spirits or liqueurs.

In line with their evolving media habits, children were, on average, seeing fewer TV ads than at any other time over the last decade and before, according to the ASA’s latest TV Ad Exposure Report.

Overall, children last year were exposed to less than half the ads they saw in 2008, from 219.5 ads per week to 103.7, the lowest in the 13-year period and in line with their evolving media habits.

This is in contrast to adults’ exposure to TV ads, which had increased by 1.8% from 343.5 ads per week in 2008 to 349.6 in 2020.

This means that children saw on average one ad for every three-and-a-half ads seen by adults in 2020.

A report by the ASA in October last year, analysing exposure to TV ads for various product categories during a seven-week period between March and May, indicated a rise in children’s exposure to gambling and alcohol ads.

But its latest report suggested that alcohol ad exposure across the year as a whole saw no material rise from 2019 levels, and a small increase in exposure to gambling ads.

UK advertising rules contain scheduling restrictions designed to significantly reduce under-18s’ exposure to ads for age-restricted product categories such as alcohol and gambling.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “Our latest report shows that children’s exposure to gambling and alcohol TV ads remains low, particularly relative to adults’ exposure, despite the extraordinary period we’ve gone through and changing viewing habits.

“The small increase in gambling ad exposure is something we will keep a close eye on – protecting children is at the heart of our regulation, and exposure must be appropriately limited.

“We will continue monitoring in this area, as well as online, to ensure that we appropriately limit children’s exposure to age-restricted ads wherever they appear.”