On 12 September 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) published three rulings in relation to ads for Paddy Power Betfair plc t/a Betfair Casino (“Betfair”), Skill on Net Ltd t/a PlayOjo (“PlayOjo”) and Gala Interactive (Gibraltar) Ltd t/a Galaspins.com (“Galaspins.com”).

In the cases of Betfair, a bookmakers, and PlayOjo, an online casino operator, the ASA found that the ads did not breach the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (the “BCAP Code”) and the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising (the “CAP Code”), respectively. However, the ASA separately ruled that gambling website Galaspins.com’s ad was irresponsible and therefore in breach of the BCAP Code.

Each of these rulings is discussed in detail, below.

The rulings

(a) Betfair

In this case, the complainant alleged that two of Betfair’s television ads breached Rule 17.4.6 of the BCAP Code, which states that gambling ads must not feature anyone who is, or appears to be, under 25 years old gambling or playing a significant role.

The actor in question was described as youthful and unshaven, wearing smart, suit-like trousers and a jumper. The first ad showed the man playing a fruit-machine style game on his mobile phone, while the second ad showed the same man using his mobile to place a sports bet.

The ASA ruled that the ads did not breach the BCAP Code, noting that while the actor looked youthful, he was, in fact, 27 years old. The ASA also considered that his styling (including muted clothing and facial stubble) did not give the impression that the actor was under 25.

The full ruling can be found here.

(b) PlayOjo

The complainant alleged that PlayOjo’s YouTube ad breached Rules 16.1 and 16.3.3 of the CAP Code, which stipulate that marketing communications: (i) must be socially responsible (particularly with regards to the protection of children/youths and other vulnerable persons); and (ii) must not suggest that gambling can provide an escape from personal, professional or educational problems such as loneliness or depression.

In this case, PlayOjo’s ad opened with an alpaca in the rain. A male voiceover compared himself to the alpaca, stating that online casinos were treating him unfairly. The video then cut to a shot of the alpaca running in a sunny field; the alpaca had “found his Ojo” - a fair casino that pays all bonuses in cash.

The ASA held that the transformation of the alpaca’s mood reflected his satisfaction with different gambling products and treatment, rather than an escape from loneliness or depression. Moreover, the ASA held that the phrase “Find Your Ojo” was unlikely to suggest that gambling could provide an escape, as it is closely linked to the name of the brand.

The full ruling can be found here.

(c) Galaspins.com

Here, the complainant alleged that Galaspins.com’s television ad breached Rule 17.3.1 of the BCAP Code, which states that advertisements must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

The ad showed a man playing on his tablet. The man began to spin a plate at speed; a voiceover stated: “Ah, the tell-tale signs of a Gala Spins fan. A whirly spin of fun and games, just like the new Britain’s Got Talent Slingo game” and encouraged viewers to “[t]ry it now and see if [they’ve] got the talent.”

Galaspins.com claimed that the ad was a reference to both the TV show Britain’s Got Talent and the plate-spinning talent of the character depicted in the ad. However, the ASA held that, when taken in context, the ad implied that viewers could improve their opportunity to win at a game of chance by exercising a degree of skill and control.

The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was in breach of the BCAP Code and could not appear in its current form.

The full ruling can be found here.

Key takeaways

These rulings exemplify the ASA’s recent crackdown on gambling ads targeting young and vulnerable persons, and reflect a broader trend towards increased consumer protection. The rulings come on the heels of the Gambling Commission’s response to the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board’s report on children, young people and gambling (discussed here) and the launch of the Commission’s consultation into age and identity verification procedures (also discussed here).

Importantly, in the coming months, the Gambling Commission is also set to receive new powers relating to advertising enforcement. Currently, the Commission is only able to fine gambling operators for misleading advertising, but from 31 October 2018, it will be empowered to issue fines and other measures for any advertising breach. Gambling operators should therefore take extra care to ensure that their online and TV ads comply with both the CAP and BCAP Codes going forward.