On 5 July the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) issued a ruling against Intellectual Property & Software Ltd in respect of a TV advert for 21.co.uk (an online casino). The ASA held that the advert was socially irresponsible as it implied gambling involves skill rather than chance and portrayed gambling in the context of toughness.

The Advert

The advert featured a man in a tuxedo sitting at a blackjack table with a voice-over stating: “His heart is pounding. His body is still. He shuffles his chips as he thinks. Heart versus head. Emotion versus reason. He makes his move. He makes his own luck”. The advert also featured close-up shots of the man’s face, showing one of his pupils dilate before he puts his chips and cards on the table.

A member of the public raised a complaint that the ad referenced a psychological thrill experienced by gambling addicts and challenged whether it was socially irresponsible. In addition to this, the ASA:

  1. challenged the claim “He makes his own luck” on the grounds that it implied gambling involves skill rather than chance, and therefore that the ad was socially irresponsible; and
  2. challenged whether the ad portrayed gambling in the context of toughness.

The ASA’s Ruling

  1. The ASA rejected the complaint. It acknowledged that it was reasonable for consumers to experience some excitement when gambling responsibly, and that the signs of excitement of the man in the ad were ‘subtle and unlikely to suggest he was a problem gambler’. It also stated that there was nothing in the ad to indicate the man’s behaviour was compulsive.
  2. Despite acknowledging that a player’s success at blackjack could be influenced by strategy, experience and skill, the ASA considered the statement “He makes his own luck” to over-emphasise the influence that strategy could have on the outcome of blackjack. The ASA also noted that the ad neglected to show that to a large extent success in the game was down to luck. As a result, the ASA held that the advert was in breach of rule 17.3.1 of the BCAP Code which prohibits portraying gambling that is socially irresponsible.
  3. The ASA also found that the advert was in breach of and rule 17.3.8 of the BCAP Code which prohibits portraying gambling in the context of toughness or linking it to resilience or recklessness. The regulator noted that the man in the ad looked at the dealer and camera with ‘a confident gaze’ and that he bet all his chips in one hand. Therefore, whilst traditional depictions of physical male toughness did not feature in the ad, the ASA believed that viewers would consider the man to be displaying mental toughness and resilience in the face of taking a major risk (i.e. betting all his chips at once).

As a result, the ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form.

Implications

This ruling illustrates that the ASA is likely to consider ads which portray gambling (even for games such as blackjack which undoubtedly can involve a degree of strategy) as involving skill rather than chance as socially irresponsible. It also demonstrates that the ASA’s reading of rule 17.3.8 includes not only physical toughness, but also mental toughness too.

As with previous ASA rulings, it is also worth noting that although the TV ad was cleared by Clearcast, this did not preclude the ASA from ruling against the operator.

The full report of the hearing is available here.