ICE London Under Fire Over Models

The gambling industry convention Ice London has been criticized for its use of scantily-clad models in promotions. However UK regulator, the Gambling Commission has refused to condemn the event. The issue is a recurrent one that ICE appears to struggle with, having been flagged multiple times in recent years.

Men in suits play poker at a casino.

Neil McArthur of the Gambling Commission refused to condemn sexism at this year’s ICE London event. ©Javon Swaby/Pexels

Catsuits and Playboy Bunnies

ICE London is one of the gambling industry’s largest annual events, bringing together over 35,000 professionals in an opportunity to network and promote the latest products. Featuring 633 exhibitors from across 65 nations, this year’s event is this biggest yet. However, this year the event has come under fire for its use of sexualized female models in its promotions.

Gambling brands use models in themed outfits to draw attention to their product launches and stand out from the crowd. The models circulate the halls of the conference offering giveaways and leaflets and inviting attendees to stands. The visitors, who are largely male, are allowed to take selfies with the models as they pose. This type of marketing has been widely condemned as ‘archaic’ and ‘sexist’.

This year, online casino Kajot promoted it’s itself with three models dressed in leather catsuits. Interblock, a company that makes casino table games, dressed its models in revealing Playboy bunny outfits. The models posed suggestively for photographs with visitors. The use of scantily-clad models for brand promotions at the ICE event has been widely criticized.

“Having seen pictures from the ICE conference of scantily clad women being used by overseas gambling companies to once again promote their organizations to men in suits, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Time and again, this industry appears to be totally lacking in morals and decency.”Carolyn Harris, MP, Swansea East

Carolyn Harris is a Labour MP for Swansea East and Chair of the Gambling Related Harm APPG. She successfully spearheaded a campaign to cap the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2. She has now called on Clarion Gaming, which runs the ICE conference, to raise its standards on this particular issue. “This kind of marketing is outdated and unnecessary and I would hope that Clarion who organized the event, think twice before doing this again”.

However, the Gambling Commission has failed to condemn this practice, instead, taking a ‘not my problem’ stance on the issue. “It is a matter for the organizers to enforce that code.”

A Recurring Problem

ICE has been a popular event at the capital for 20 years, although this is not the first time it has been accused of sexism. Negative press plagued the event in 2018 when it emerged that pole dancers were used in promotions. Models also told journalists that attendees sexually propositioned them.

The event had echoes of another heavily criticized event at the time – the Presidents Club dinner. The male-only gala hired 130 hostesses, telling them to wear ‘skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels’. These women were also made to sign non-disclosure agreements. Following public controversy and allegations of groping the event was closed down.

Sarah Harrison was head of the Gambling Commission in 2018. She condemned the ICE conference over its use of sexualized models in promotions. Speaking at the time, Harrison explained that the standards for men and women at the event were unequal. “You saw men representing their companies wearing expensive tailored suits whilst their female colleagues were expected to wear nothing more than swimsuits.”

“A woman from the gambling industry is Britain’s highest-paid boss. Yet from walking around the exhibition you wouldn’t know this.”

Harrison suggested that in future years the Gambling Commission might boycott the event if it continued to use models wearing “little more than swimsuits”. That boycott hasn’t happened, but she did persuade ICE to introduce a code of conduct to combat sexism at the event. Clarion introduced a code of conduct in 2019, although it has not gone far enough to eradicate sexism completely. According to the code, “partial or total nudity or overtly sexual or suggestive clothing or marketing methods will not be allowed”.

One firm this year has been reported to have breached this code. A spokesman for the event explained that “Show management have spoken with the exhibitor concerned and immediate action was taken to ensure compliance”.

Since then, there has been a change in leadership at the UKGC. Neil McArthur, who is the current boss at the Gambling Commission, has taken a more lenient stance on the issue to his predecessor.

“We called out the organizers about this two years ago and they have since launched a code of conduct. It is a matter for the organizers to enforce that code. Our focus at the conference is on making gambling safer for British consumers.”

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