Controversial ASA ruling against Sky Bet TV ad

The Advertising Standards Authority ruled last week that an August 2018 TV advert promoting Sky Bet’s “Request a Bet” service, fronted by the Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling, “gave customers an unrealistic and exaggerated perception of the level of control they would have over the outcome of a bet and that could lead to irresponsible gambling behaviour”.

The rationale for the ASA’s ruling (that can be downloaded below) was as follows:

The ad contained a number of references to the role of sports knowledge in betting, such as “spark your sports brain” and “how big is your sports noggin”. It also included a well-known sports presenter, who viewers would recognise as having a particular expertise in sports, and on-screen graphics used to depict brain waves and various odds. The ASA considered that, taking all those elements into account, the ad placed strong emphasis on the role of sports knowledge in determining betting success. We acknowledged it was the case that those with knowledge of a particular sport may be more likely to experience success when betting. However, we considered that the ad gave an erroneous perception of the extent of a gambler’s control over betting success, by placing undue emphasis on the role of sports knowledge.

We believe this to be a particularly harsh ruling by the ASA, given:

1.  the justification provided to it by Sky Bet, set out in the ruling as follows:

Sky Bet said that the ad made two references to knowledge, the first being “Spark your sports brain” and secondly “how big is your sports noggin?”, which in the context of the ad referred to consumers using their knowledge to build a bet using the Sky Bet Request a Bet feature. They said that there were a number of parameters that customers could choose to build their bet and they would use knowledge of the relevant sport in order to do that. The ad made no reference to knowledge increasing someone’s chances of winning and referred to the possibilities of customers building their own bet. The ad also stated “In sports anything can happen” which emphasised that the outcome of bets were in no way guaranteed and the ad made no reference to knowledge of sports increasing gambling success.

They explained that it was accepted that knowledge of a specific sport would on the whole increase a consumer’s chances of success. Many customers researched, studied and followed sports to a degree which would give them an “edge” over a bookmaker. They said their own Trading Team used knowledge, research and information in order to set the odds of specific outcomes. Therefore, customers who generally would have access to the same information would potentially be able to predict the odds of a specific outcome to a similar degree. One of the key elements of sports betting was knowledge of the relevant sport, which was why there was a market for sports tipsters and professional gamblers.

2. the following position adopted by Clearcast (as also set out in the ruling)

Clearcast said that they felt the ad was in line with similar sports betting treatments, where the focus was on the excitement and possibilities within sports for fans, rather than on the outcome of the bet or on the possibilities of winning. The voice-over invited the viewer to consider all the different outcomes of a game, while making the point that “anything does happen”. While there were several possibilities which could have occurred, there was no way to predict what would actually happen during a game even with good knowledge of the sport. They said they did not believe the ad was irresponsible or promised guaranteed success for those who followed the game.

It provides a yet further example of the much tougher – some say “over-zealous” – attitude adopted by the ASA towards gambling advertising since publication in February 2018 of updated guidance on interpretation of CAP and BCAP’s gambling rules, including in relation to erroneous perceptions of risk and control, when it stated: “marketing communications should avoid approaches that give erroneous perceptions of the level of risk involved or the extent of a gambler’s control over a bet or gambling in general”.

UPDATE: On 10 July 2019, the ASA published a fresh ruling that replaces that published on 13 March 2019 to which we have referred above. The new ruling (that can be downloaded below) reverses the ASA’s earlier decision, thus making the complaint ‘not upheld’. The ASA’s new assessment reads as follows:

The ad promoted the ‘Request a Bet’ service which enabled consumers to build their own bet, which was highlighted through the depiction of various odds and on-screen graphics. The ad contained a number of references to the role of sports knowledge in betting, such as “spark your sports brain” and “how big is your sports noggin”, and the ASA considered that these would be understood as referencing the potential to use sports knowledge when building a complex bet.

The ad focused on the features of the particular betting service being promoted and we did not consider that it irresponsibly exaggerated the role which sports knowledge played in achieving betting success. The phrase “in sport anything does happen” explicitly recognised the uncertain nature of sporting outcomes. We therefore concluded that the ad was not socially irresponsible and did not breach the Code.

We investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 17.3 and 17.3.1 (Gambling), but did not find it in breach