One of the UK’s leading gambling brands allegedly paid blogs advising new mothers to recommend its online casino games and link to its website, in a tactic that has been condemned as “predatory” by leading mental health and addiction experts.

Coral struck deals with parenting bloggers to embed links in posts offering tips, including on how to relieve the stress of caring for a new baby.

One post, ostensibly about baby food recipes, said: “If as a mum you can’t leave the house, then why not consider bingo online?

“You can click here to play Bingo online at Coral – this momentary break from childcare can prove beneficial.”

The Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) guidelines state that gambling adverts must not be “socially irresponsible”, including presenting betting as a way to relieve loneliness or depression.

Another parenting blog recommended “opulent games of online roulette that are easy to learn and can provide some handy winnings too”.

The ASA guidelines also state that gambling must not be presented as a “solution to financial concerns”.

A further three parenting blogs posted parenting articles that also contained segments recommending online casino or bingo and linking to the Coral website.

A source familiar with the arrangements said Coral had paid the bloggers to include the links.

Such games are typically more popular with women than sports betting. Major gambling operators have sought to expand their customer base in recent years by targeting women, who have historically gambled less than men.

Entain, which owns Coral, said the articles including links to the Coral website had been posted between 2014 and 2016, before it bought Ladbrokes Coral in 2018.

On Tuesday, the company said it would try to get them taken down as soon as possible, although they remained live on Sunday.

“Neither Coral nor any Entain brand actively targets young mothers or any other potentially vulnerable group through the use of affiliate marketing,” a spokesperson said.

The company added that it was “unable to prevent third parties from linking to our gaming sites”.

The source, who used to work for a company that arranged such deals with bloggers, said Coral staff had read the articles and signed them off before publication.

Entain added: “We do not make payments to any of the sites in the examples provided.”

However, it did not say whether Coral had done so in the past.

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Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said: “It’s cynical for gambling firms to target new and single mums at a time in their lives when they may be suffering stress, sleep deprivation and issues which make them particularly vulnerable.

“This is yet another example of predatory behaviour from a gambling industry which is worth billions each year – while at the same time the NHS is investing more than ever before in mental health support for new mothers.

Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, said: “The direct targeting of new mothers by embedding a bingo advert in a page about baby food recipes is deeply disturbing and should be called out.

“Gambling is not a way out of psychological distress and these embedded messages are taking advantage of people’s circumstances knowing they may be at home alone for far longer periods than ever experienced.

“These are all gambling adverts hiding in full light of day, it may be less apparent to someone new to gambling that these messages are there encouraging people to take up gambling for the first time.”

Only one of the blog posts disclosed that links contained in the article were the result of a sponsorship or affiliate marketing arrangement.

The Guardian has chosen not to name the blogs because the authors could not be reached for comment.

The source said the practice was chiefly aimed at manipulating Google’s search results by creating an association between women and online casino and bingo games.

Entain said the links did not provide it with any search engine benefits.

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