On 13 March 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published a ruling involving Bonne Terre Ltd t/a SkyBet in relation to a TV ad's compliance with the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising ("BCAP Code").

The ASA upheld the complaint, finding that the ad was socially irresponsible in its promotion of gambling and therefore in breach of the BCAP Code.

The Ad

The ad promoted SkyBet's "Request a Bet" service. The well-known football presenter Jeff Stelling said the following:

"Forget "anything can happen", in sport anything does happen. But could it be better? With "Request a Bet" it could. Spark your sports brain and roll all the possibilities into one bet. Three red cards, seven corners, five goals: let's price that up. Or browse hundreds of "Requests a Bets" on our app. The possibilities are humongous. How big is your sports noggin? SkyBet, Britain's most popular online bookmarker. When the fun stops, stop."

Whilst Jeff Stelling spoke, a large screen behind him featured various odds and statistics.

The issue was whether the ad was socially irresponsible due to implying those with a good knowledge of sports would be more likely to experience gambling success.

In response, SkyBet stated that references to "sports noggin" were in the context of its "Request a Bet" feature pursuant to which consumers can build their own bets and, in doing so, use their own sports knowledge. SkyBet argued there was no reference to increasing chances of success; indeed the ad specifically stated, "anything can happen."

Further, it argued one of the key elements of sports betting was knowledge of the sport itself. Many customers carry out research before placing a bet in the hope of gaining an "edge" on the bookmaker. SkyBet also pointed out that its own Trading Team uses knowledge and research of sports to generate its bets and odds.

Clearcast also believed the ad was not irresponsible nor promised guaranteed success. In its view, the ad focused on the excitement and possibilities within sports for fans rather than the possibilities of winning. The ad referred to the many different possible outcomes within a game, making clear that anything could happen.

The Decision

The ASA found that the accumulation of repeat references to "sports noggin" and the use of Jeff Stelling, who viewers would recognise as having a particular expertise in sports, put a strong emphasis on the role of sports knowledge in determining success. It found the ad overall gave an erroneous perception of the extent to which knowledge of sport can influence sports betting success and an exaggerated perception of the level of control consumers could exert over their betting.

As a result, the ASA found the ad encouraged gambling behaviour that could be socially irresponsible and lead to financial, social or emotional harm in breach of BCAP Code rules 17.3 and 17.3.1. The ASA ruled that the ad should not be broadcast again in a similar form and warned SkyBet about future ads and compliance with the BCAP Code.

SkyBet has since criticised the decision, stating it creates a "high level of uncertainty" for the market. As SkyBet points out, the decision itself does seem to be inconsistent with recent decisions. For example, in the Betfair decision (which we review here), an ad encouraging consumers to use their "smarts" to place bets on Betfair exchange for potentially bigger returns than other bookmakers was found to be compliant with the BCAP Code. In the ASA's view, this ad showed a consumer making a measured decision about where to place their bet. This seems analogous to the SkyBet ad, where arguably the consumer is being encouraged to use their "sports noggin" to make a measured decision about how they place their bet.

A link to the full ASA decision can be found here.