ASA Yanks Intercasino, Paddy Power Ads

23 April 2008

Intercasino and Paddy Power have become the first online gambling operators to have had complaints upheld against them for breaching new regulations governing gambling advertising in the United Kingdom, which came into force under the Gambling Act 2005 last September.

The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority on Thursday released its adjudications on two advertising campaigns: the first, a series of television commercials for Intercasino, the second, a print advertisement for Paddy Power’s financial spread betting product.

In the case of OIGE CG Ltd., the Malta-based company trading as Intercasino, the authority described the content of one of the offending adverts thus:

"[it] featured two people of restricted growth, dressed in dice costumes and wearing safety goggles and helmets, surveying the area around them from the top of a hill; a voice-over commentated in mock Japanese game show style. As they started to run, the two characters ducked their head into their costume and then rolled down the steep hill . . . The dice crashed into a wall at the bottom of the hill, imitating a giant game of craps."

The other adverts in the campaign were of a similar style, the authority said.

Intercasino believed that the adverts "contained gentle slapstick humor reminiscent of old-fashioned routines by Charlie Chaplin or Benny Hill."

But in its adjudication, the authority upheld the complaint that the adverts breached clauses 11.10.2 (b) and 11.10.2 (c) of the British Committee of Advertising Practice TV Advertising Standards Code, also known as the BCAP code.

The first clause, 11.10.2 (b), provides that gambling adverts must not appeal to young people by "reflecting or being associated with youth culture," while the second, 11.10.2 (c), provides that adverts may neither feature under-age characters nor behavior that is "adolescent," "juvenile" or "loutish."

Intercasino argued that the humor "was in no way juvenile, adolescent or loutish," but the authority concluded that none of the four adverts in the campaign should be broadcast again.

"It's a shame that some people can't see humor when it's put in front of them," Peter Marcus, a spokesman for Intercasino, told Brand Republic. "We'll continue, through advertising and other marketing channels, to try to entertain our customers in a way that our competitors don't."

"This is a very unusual and surprising ruling from the ASA given that it has not received any public complaints regarding the advertisements which have been on air since September 2007," he added.

Paddy Power’s print advert for its financial spread betting service, as described by the authority, featured "a short man in the back of a stretch limousine; he was holding a glass of champagne and a cigar and was flanked by two glamorous-looking women." The copy of the advert asked, "Who says you can’t make money being short?"

The authority considered a complaint that the advert breached sections 2.2, 57.4 (f) and 57.4 (h) of the CAP code -- rules separate from the BCAP code that cover non-broadcast advertising.

By way of background, section 57 comprises the new regulations that came into force under the Gambling Act 2005 and specifically covers gambling advertising.

The first clause of section 57.4, (f), provides that marketing communications should "not suggest that gambling can enhance personal qualities, for example that it can improve self-image or self-esteem, or is a way to gain control, superiority, recognition or admiration," while the second, (h), provides that they should "not link gambling to seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness."

Paddy Power responded by saying that it did not believe it had breached the code and that the phrase, "being short," would be understood by the financial spread bettors at whom the advert was aimed. The company said the advert was meant to replicate a scene from the 1987 film, Wall Street. It has withdrawn the advert from all U.K. media.

One of the first betting companies to run a television advertising campaign after the full implementation of the Gambling Act 2005 was Ladbrokes, which touted the line, "Everyone’s got an opinion, what’s yours worth?" When the authority received four complaints about the advert it was seen as something of a test-case for the gambling industry. ASA subsequently cleared Ladbrokes’ campaign of all complaints.

Indeed, the gambling industry has had a very high level of compliance with the new advertising regulations that were introduced in September 2007. A survey conducted by the CAP Compliance team over a two-month period at the end of 2007 found that only seven out of 784 adverts appeared to breach the regulations. Speaking at the recent Bet-Markets conference in Vienna, Laure Alexandre of the European Advertising Standards Alliance said this 99 percent compliance rate was the highest for any sector.

The fact that the Gambling Act 2005 gave new opportunities to the gambling industry in the United Kingdom, such as television advertising, inevitably meant that there would be an element of testing the water with regard to the rules. So far, the industry seems to abiding by the rules and taking a sensible approach to its advertising activities.

Click here to view the ASA adjudication on Intercasino.

Click here to view the ASA adjudication on Paddy Power.

Lorien is a research analyst with Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, and currently resides on the Isle of Man. Prior to this, he spent three years at a leading United Kingdom gambling firm, providing regulatory and market research for its various international e-gaming ventures.