William Hill 'Very Disappointed' by A.S.A. Ruling (Updated with A.S.A. Comment)

30 May 2008

A television spot for William Hill's online bingo site is the third advertisement in two months to be pulled by the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority, which raises the question: Under the Gambling Act 2005, are the rules clear enough?

"Obviously not, or otherwise the ad would not have been banned," Graham Sharpe, William Hill's media relations director, told Interactive Gaming News.

The ad features a woman and man in their kitchen at breakfast.

As the woman moves the minute hand forward on the clock from 7:15 to 7:30 a.m., she suggests: "Darling, shouldn't you be going?"

When her partner leaves, she says: "I get mine the minute he's out the door." She then runs up the stairs to play William Hill online bingo.

"William Hill bingo . . . a massive online community," a voice-over says. "When will you get your William Hill bingo thrill?"

As the woman continues to play online, she moves the hand of the clock back and asks: "Doesn't time fly?"

The authority received seven complaints, three of which said the ad was harmful because it portrayed a woman so desperate to gamble she had to deceive her family and hide her addiction.

However, William Hill said the ad was a light-hearted portrayal of an "everyday scenario of a woman wanting to get on with her day once her husband had left the house, punctuated by taking a break to play bingo."

But the authority upheld the complaints on the grounds that the ad "portrayed, condoned or encouraged gambling behavior that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm," and ordered William Hill not to run the ad again in its current form.

Mr. Sharpe said William Hill had no reason to believe, before running the ad, that it would not be acceptable.

"We took advice beforehand from people who are supposed to be aware of what is and isn't permissible within the guidelines and were of the impression that it was entirely uncontroversial," he said. "We were very disappointed to be told that it wasn't. Obviously we have no choice but to abide by that ruling."

Mr. Sharpe acknowledged, however, that the advertising rules are relatively new, and that implementation is going to be a learning process for all parties involved.

In April, two gambling ads were pulled by the authority: a television ad for Intercasino, and a print ad for Paddy Power's financial spread betting service.

A spokesperson for the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority, which regulates the content of advertisements in the country, told IGN that three banned gambling ads in five months constitutes a small amount given the volume of advertising.

"There was always going to be a first breach of the advertising code," said Matt Wilson, a press officer with the authority. "That's inevitably going to happen when people advertise. There will be the occasional breach. But three breaches is a really good news story."

In a 2007 survey, the authority revealed that gambling ads across all media -- 784 -- achieved a 99 percent compliance rate with rules covering broadcast and non-broadcast advertising.

Click here to view the company's televised ad.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.