Replicating betting ‘highs’ in betting ads at risk of being deemed socially irresponsible

A recent decision by the Advertising Standards Authority (on 3 August 2022) in relation to a TV ad for bookmakers Coral could have far-reaching consequences insofar as TV advertising of sports betting is concerned.

Applicable to the specific circumstances of the ad in question, the ASA’s ruling states as follows:

…. in principle, the portrayal of gambling as exciting would not in itself be a breach of the Code, but it nevertheless considered that the particular presentation of those elements of the ad, in combination with the voice-over, carried a significant risk of replicating or recalling ‘highs’ associated with previous successful bets or betting in general, for viewers vulnerable to problem gambling.

We set out the whole ASA ruling beneath our following summary of the factors that resulted in the ASA including the above wording within its ruling:

Summary 

  1. The BCAP Code states that ads must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.
  2. CAP’s Advertising Guidance “Gambling advertising: responsibility and problem gambling”, relating to both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising (on which we have previously reported here) states that certain marketing approaches are likely to have a disproportionate impact on problem gamblers.
  3. Marketers must therefore:
    • take all reasonable steps to protect problem gamblers, and those at risk from such behaviours, from being harmed or exploited by advertising that featured or promoted gambling
    • take care to avoid encouraging people to gamble more than they otherwise would or including an implication of problem gambling behaviours or other behavioural indicators linked to problem gambling (including preoccupation with gambling, mood swings (including highs and lows, irritability and shortness of temper), and detachment from surroundings).
  4. Although in the case of the Coral ad, there was no depiction or explicit reference to betting, the ASA considered that visual and audible references throughout the ad to Coral would lead viewers to interpret the ad in the context that it promoted gambling on horse racing with Coral.
  5. The voice-over repeatedly used the phrase “Your horse”, including at the beginning of the ad, as a consequence of which when stated in the context of an ad for a gambling operator, the ASA considered that viewers were likely to interpret that phrase as inviting them to watch the race from the perspective of someone gambling on its outcome.
  6. The ASA also considered:
    • the ad to give the impression that its exciting tone captured the experience, not only of anticipating and watching horse racing as a non-gambler, but of betting on horse races,
    • the phrase “Your horse is the only horse that matters” reinforced that impression by positioning gambling as a large part of horse racing’s appeal, and
    • the voice-over stating “Coral. Get closer to the action” (which also appeared on-screen in the ad’s penultimate shot) implied that engaging with a gambling operator and placing bets enhanced horse racing spectators’ experience, including by increasing their involvement in races, and making those races more exciting
  7. The ASA noted that:
    • abstinence from gambling was a common strategy by which problem gamblers, particularly those struggling with gambling addiction, sought to overcome their disorder
    • the ad’s voice-over addressed the viewer in the second person and also referred to “your” horse winning a tightly contested race with no reference to losses
  8. It therefore considered there was a significant risk that element of the ad could disproportionately affect, or pressure, those struggling with gambling addiction.
  9. The ASA also noted the ad’s various intensely exciting audio-visual effects, including the dramatic music, the close-up and ‘shaky camera’ shots of suspenseful spectators, and the aerial and POV shots of the race set over frantic shouts from the crowd and the exaggerated drum-roll of hooves on the track.
  10. It therefore considered that, in principle, the portrayal of gambling as exciting would not in itself be a breach of the Code, but it nevertheless considered that the particular presentation of those elements of the ad, in combination with the voice-over, carried a significant risk of replicating or recalling ‘highs’ associated with previous successful bets or betting in general, for viewers vulnerable to problem gambling.
  11. The ASA further noted that the voice-over stated, “How long have you waited for those gates to crash open … What about earlier still?” It accordingly considered it likely that viewers would understand those lines as suggesting intense anticipation of races a long time in advance of their occurrence.
  12. Because the ASA considered the ad positioned gambling as a large part of horse racing’s appeal, it considered:
    • those lines were suggestive of preoccupation with gambling and
    • in the context of the ad’s other elements, they implied a behaviour linked to problem gambling.
  13. Because the ASA considered there was a significant risk of the ad disproportionately affecting a vulnerable group, it concluded that the ad was socially irresponsible, stating: “It portrayed, condoned, or encouraged gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm” as a result of which it breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising), 17.3 and 17.3.1 (Gambling).

The full ruling:

ASA Ruling on LC International Ltd trading as Coral

Ad description

A TV ad for Coral, a bookmakers, seen in March 2022, featured stylised footage of a tightly contested horse race on a misty day. The ad included cropped close-up shots of spectators engrossed by the events on track, cheering and waiting in anticipation. Other shots featured a lively commentator standing up from his seat, a man rushing through the crowd, the starter shouting commands, and a jockey sitting upright on his horse after finishing. The voice-over, variously accompanied by shouts from the crowd, the sound of hooves on the track, and dramatic music, stated, “Exciting, isn’t it? When your horse wins by a nose. But if that’s exciting, how about three furlongs ago? Look, look, any horse could win. How about now when your horse is under starters orders? How long have you waited for those gates to crash open? But that’s nothing. What about earlier still? Your horse is the only horse that matters. Coral. Get closer to the action.”

The text “BeGambleAware.org 18+” was displayed in the top-left corner throughout. The ad’s penultimate shot featured the Coral logo above text that stated, “GET CLOSER TO THE ACTION”. The final shot featured text that stated, “TAKE TIME TO THINK” next to a pause icon on a bright yellow background.

Issue

Two complainants challenged whether the ad breached the Code by portraying, condoning or encouraging gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

Response

LC International Ltd t/a Coral said that their intention with the ad was to capture the trackside excitement and crowd atmosphere at popular horse racing events. They wanted it to appeal to an adult audience of horse racing fans and had designed the visuals and dramatic soundtrack to evoke a cinematic feel. They believed that a strong sense of anticipation before races was an inherent feature of horse racing, and that replicating that aspect of spectators’ experience was not suggestive of problem gambling, especially because feelings of excitement were a normal reaction to the build-up of large sporting events.

They had deliberately refrained from including any depiction of betting, as well as any mention of the availability of their products, services, or promotional offers. They believed that their branding’s visibility was the only element of the ad which could be identified as a reference to betting. Because they believed it did not portray or encourage gambling behaviour of any form, they felt that the ad was not irresponsible, and did not think it would disproportionately affect vulnerable groups. They further stated that the emotions displayed by the ads’ characters did not reflect behavioural indicators of problem gambling.

They highlighted that the voice-over’s phrase “Your horse” could refer to any horse that spectators had chosen as their favourite, and therefore believed that the phrase did not imply betting. They also believed that phrase drew focus to the action involved in races, and stated that its use of the second person was unlikely to disproportionately affect problem gamblers.

Clearcast considered viewers would understand that the excitement portrayed was not solely caused by gambling, noting that excitement was a natural response to the atmosphere of a large crowd and the spectacle of a tightly contested sporting event. They also highlighted that no one was seen betting and believed that linking the crowd’s excitement to gambling relied on an assumption that every spectator had placed a bet on the race, when it was instead linked to the excitement of the sport itself.

They said that close-up shots of individual spectators were featured very briefly and that most of the ad showed visuals of the race itself or wider shots of crowd scenes. Because they believed that the ad did not draw much attention to individuals in the crowd, they did not think there was anything in the ad to indicate that individual spectators were experiencing a ‘thrill’ from betting.

They understood that the BCAP Code did not prevent marketers from portraying gambling as an exciting or engaging activity. They noted that CAP’s guidance “Gambling advertising: responsibility and problem gambling” advised that doing so was generally acceptable, so long as ads did not portray or otherwise refer to individuals displaying problem gambling behaviours or other behavioural indicators linked to problem gambling. They acknowledged that CAP guidance did not provide an exhaustive list of such behaviours, but they understood it referenced the most serious and did not believe that the ad portrayed any of those.

Assessment

Upheld

The BCAP Code stated that ads must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm. CAP’s Advertising Guidance “Gambling advertising: responsibility and problem gambling”, relating to both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising, stated that certain marketing approaches were likely to have a disproportionate impact on problem gamblers. As such, marketers must take all reasonable steps to protect problem gamblers, and those at risk from such behaviours, from being harmed or exploited by advertising that featured or promoted gambling. Marketers should take care to avoid encouraging people to gamble more than they otherwise would or including an implication of problem gambling behaviours or other behavioural indicators linked to problem gambling. Such behaviours included preoccupation with gambling, mood swings (including highs and lows, irritability and shortness of temper), and detachment from surroundings.

The ASA acknowledged that the ad did not depict, or explicitly refer to, betting. However, throughout the ad, Coral banners could be seen around the track and in the crowd, each horse had “CORAL” written on its saddle cloth, and the ad ended by referencing Coral in the voice-over and in large on-screen text. We considered viewers would therefore interpret the ad in the context that it promoted gambling on horse racing with Coral. The voice-over repeatedly used the phrase “Your horse”, including at the beginning of the ad. In the context of an ad for a gambling operator, we considered viewers were likely to interpret that phrase as inviting them to watch the race from the perspective of someone gambling on its outcome. As such, we further considered the ad gave the impression that its exciting tone captured the experience, not only of anticipating and watching horse racing as a non-gambler, but of betting on horse races. We considered the phrase “Your horse is the only horse that matters” reinforced that impression by positioning gambling as a large part of horse racing’s appeal. The voice-over stated, “Coral. Get closer to the action”, which also appeared on-screen in the ad’s penultimate shot. We considered that phrase implied that engaging with a gambling operator and placing bets enhanced horse racing spectators’ experience, including by increasing their involvement in races, and making those races more exciting.

We noted that abstinence from gambling was a common strategy by which problem gamblers, particularly those struggling with gambling addiction, sought to overcome their disorder. The ad’s voice-over addressed the viewer in the second person and also referred to “your” horse winning a tightly contested race with no reference to losses. We considered there was a significant risk that element of the ad could disproportionately affect, or pressure, those struggling with gambling addiction. We also noted the ad’s various intensely exciting audio-visual effects, including the dramatic music, the close-up and ‘shaky camera’ shots of suspenseful spectators, and the aerial and POV shots of the race set over frantic shouts from the crowd and the exaggerated drum-roll of hooves on the track. We considered that, in principle, the portrayal of gambling as exciting would not in itself be a breach of the Code. However, we considered that the particular presentation of those elements of the ad, in combination with the voice-over, carried a significant risk of replicating or recalling ‘highs’ associated with previous successful bets or betting in general, for viewers vulnerable to problem gambling.

Further, the voice-over stated, “How long have you waited for those gates to crash open … What about earlier still?” We considered it likely that viewers would understand those lines as suggesting intense anticipation of races a long time in advance of their occurrence. Given that we considered the ad positioned gambling as a large part of horse racing’s appeal, we considered those lines were suggestive of preoccupation with gambling. In the context of the ad’s other elements, we considered that they implied a behaviour linked to problem gambling.

Because we considered there was a significant risk of the ad disproportionately affecting a vulnerable group, we concluded that it was socially irresponsible. It portrayed, condoned, or encouraged gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.

The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 (Responsible advertising), 17.3 and 17.3.1 (Gambling).

Action

The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told LC International Ltd t/a Coral to ensure future ads were socially responsible and unlikely to have a disproportionate impact on problem gamblers, and did not feature any implication of behaviours linked to problem gambling.

BCAP Code

17.3.1     1.2     17.3