On August 3, 2022, the Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) issued two rulings, each upholding complaints about gambling ads.
The two adverts, a TV advert for LC International Ltd (as Coral) and an in-app advert for a casino game marketed by Rank Digital Gaming (Alderney) Ltd, have been deemed socially irresponsible by the ASA .
The Coral ad
Coral’s television commercial showed cinema-style footage of a horse race, with close-up shots of onlookers looking captivated and cheering. The voiceover, which was accompanied by hoofbeats, shouts from the crowd and dramatic music, said, “Exciting, isn’t it? When your horse wins by a nose. But if it’s exciting, how about there are three stages? Listen, listen, any horse can win. How about now that your horse is under starters’ orders? How long have you been waiting for those doors to open? But it’s nothing. And even earlier? Your horse is the only horse that matters. Coral. Get closer to the action.
Two plaintiffs were concerned that the advertisement violated the PCA Code by depicting, condoning or encouraging gambling behavior that is socially irresponsible or likely to cause financial, social or emotional harm.
Coral argued that the ad deliberately did not include any representation of betting and that the only reference to gambling was through the Coral brand. Based on this, they claimed that if the advertisement did not describe or encourage gambling, it could not be considered irresponsible. Coral explained that the ad was meant to show the excitement of a race, rather than a bet. Clearcast agreed with this, saying the excitement was a normal response to the atmosphere of a crowd and a hotly contested sporting event.
However, the ASA disagreed with this analysis. Although he acknowledged there was no actual depiction or explicit reference to betting, Coral banners could be seen around the track and in the crowd, and each horse had “Coral” written on its saddle. Additionally, the repeated reference to “your horse” in the voiceover was, according to the ASA, likely to entice viewers to watch the ad from the perspective of someone who bet on a horse. This was reinforced with the phrase “Your horse is the only horse that matters”.
The ASA also considered that the intense audio effects, close-ups, dramatic music and POV shots, coupled with the voice-over and reference to “your horse’s victory”, carried a significant risk of representing only the “highs” associated with successful bets. , which can be particularly dangerous for vulnerable viewers.
Because the ASA considered there was a significant risk that the advertisement would disproportionately affect a vulnerable group, it ruled that the advertisement was socially irresponsible and violated BCAP Code Rule 1.2, which states that advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the public and to society, and rules 17.3 and 17.3.1 which state that advertisements may not depict, condone or encourage gaming behavior that is socially irresponsible or could cause harm financial, social or emotional.
The ranking announcement
The in-app ad for the “Wolf Gold” mobile app casino game was shown in the “Lucky Night” app. The ad featured an image of a prize wheel and a wolf’s face, with two women at the top of the page. The text read “Everyone wants to solve their own [sic] financial problems… Click the ‘DOWNLOAD’ button right now and start earning… In fact, everything is very easy to do with our application… pay off loans, buy a car and a nice house… and earn lots of money!” The text underneath read “WELCOME BONUS £400”.
The announcement was reported to the ASA on the grounds that it was irresponsible to suggest the game could provide a solution to financial problems and provide financial security.
Rank agreed with the complainant and explained that the ad was crafted by an affiliated organization (WakeApp) without Rank’s knowledge. Rank admitted that if they had known about the announcement, they would not have approved it. After being made aware of the announcement, Rank had terminated its relationship with WakeApp. WakeApp explained that the ad also failed to follow its own internal policies, but did not elaborate on why the ad was therefore posted.
As the ad clearly suggested players could use the game to earn money and alleviate financial hardship, the ASA ruled it to be socially irresponsible and in violation of CAP Code Rule 16.1, which requires that gambling advertisements are socially responsible, particularly with regard to ensuring that vulnerable people are not harmed or exploited, and that Rules 16.3.1 and 16.3.4 were also breached due to advertising encouraging socially irresponsible behavior that could result in financial harm, and suggesting that gambling could be a solution for financial concerns.
The Coral decision arguably takes an extreme position by suggesting that the ASA will consider gambling advertisements that are uplifting and focus on the excitement of placing a bet as dangerous to those who are vulnerable, particularly when those customers have decided to try to refrain from betting. This is a difficult line for operators to draw because, by applying this ruling, many gambling ads are likely to pose at least some risk to vulnerable customers. Operators have an interest in showing the anticipation of placing a bet and watching a race, and many viewers probably wouldn’t associate this behavior with some sort of addiction or gambling problem.
Following this decision, operators should undertake a comprehensive review of their ads to ensure that the context of the ad and the various elements of the ad, taken together, do not make it considered socially irresponsible.
The Rank judgment should be seen as a reminder of the extent of operators’ liability for the actions of their affiliates. Although Rank was not made aware of the ad, it was held responsible by the ASA for the content of the ad. In addition to the ASA’s decision, the Gambling Commission of Great Britain would also hold Rank liable for this breach on the basis that provision 1.1.2 of the Social Responsibility Code of License Terms and Codes of Practice (LCCP) provides that operators are responsible for the third parties with whom they contract for the supply of any aspect of their gambling-related activity, which means that these third parties must comply with the LCCP as if they were bound under the same conditions. In particular, Licensees (and therefore their Affiliates) are required to comply with the CAP and BCAP Advertising Codes, pursuant to provision 5.1.6 of the LCCP Code of Social Responsibility.
Operators should ensure that they have strong advertising policies in place for their affiliates to follow, as well as contractual obligations that require affiliates to comply with applicable advertising regulations. Operators should also ensure that they are aware of their affiliates’ activities and have adequate oversight of any advertising.