The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint against UK-based online bookmaker William Hill over one of its recent horse racing promotions.
Despite just one complaint being made over the September advert, the ASA has warned the UK bookmaker to be more clear with its promotional offers.
William Hill was fined £6.2m in February by the Gambling Commission for breaching anti-theft and money laundering regulations.
2 Clear “was unclear”
The advert in question highlighted a “2 Clear” promotion, where a voiceover announced William Hill would give players a 15% free bet bonus if their horse won by two lengths or more in any live flat race broadcast on the UK television channel ITV.
Importantly, the critical feature was that if the race featured six or more runners.
Terms such as “free bet bonus” and “Live ITV Flat Races” flashed on the screen as references, while smaller text at the bottom of the screen noted “Selected UK flat races. 6+ runners.”
The ASA questioned the use of this small text, and the decision to include six or more runners in flat races where horses were regularly withdrawn up to around thirty minutes before the start.
In response, William Hill said it understood the concern of the complaint, but after having reviewed the promotion it believed consumers would be well informed of its requirements.
The betting firm went on to say that the small print at the bottom of the ad was included to “underline that it covered live races only, not all races,” and dismissed the potential that multiple horse withdrawals would be a common occurrence.
However, the independent review recognized the on-screen text detailing qualification to the offer. However, it ruled that featured terms such as “bet on any live ITV flat race” and “available on all live ITV flat races” were contradictory.
In its statement, the ASA said: “We noted it was common in flat horse races for runners to drop out right up until the beginning of the race.
“We understood there would be instances where a consumer might decide to place a bet on a race, and not know until the start of the race that their bet would no longer be eligible for the bonus as the race no longer had the requisite amount of runners.
“We considered that this was a significant qualification that should have been prominently included in the main body of the ad and that it was not sufficiently clear for it to be presented in the small text at the bottom of the screen.”
The ad in question must not appear in its current form again, while a reminder was also issued that William Hill must ensure conditions relating to offers are clear and do not contradict qualification claims.
The timing was not helpful to the betting company’s reputation with the public, coming so soon after being hit with such a hefty fine. This was seemingly acknowledged in the company’s results statement last Friday.
It said: “A key pillar of our strategy moving forward will be to act in a sustainable way”.
“In the months ahead we will be taking a number of steps as a matter of urgency to ensure we embed this approach in our business for the long term.”
Philip Bowcock, group CEO of William Hill, recently told SBC News that the company’s failings exposed by the Gambling Commission were “clearly not good enough,” but steered clear of stating that similar incidents would not happen again.
Although William Hill has created new processes to improve the much-criticized money-laundering and anti-theft system, Mr Bowcock suggested that any regime would not be 100% effective.
“There is always the potential for the wrong thing to happen,” he said. “No process can be fool-proof.”
“Inappropriate sense of urgency”
Even stricter regulations are about to come into force regarding adverts.
Britain’s advertising regulator has unveiled a set of new standards for gambling ads, on the back of a broad government consultation on the health risks associated with the sprawling industry.
The new standards will restrict adverts that create what the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) deem to convey an “inappropriate sense of urgency” – such as those that include phrases like “Bet Now!” to push offers during live events.
Since the 2005 Gambling Act liberalized gambling advertising in the UK, the size of the market has soared.
The CAP told the Independent newspaper that while problem gambling rates have remained relatively stable in that time, there is evidence suggesting specific claims, imagery or approaches portrayed in advertising might unduly influence people to behave irresponsibly.
“We won’t tolerate gambling ads that exploit people’s vulnerabilities or play fast and loose with eye-catching free bet and bonus offers,” said Shahriar Coupal, director of the CAP.
“Our new guidance takes account of the best available evidence to strengthen the protections already in place, ensuring that gambling is presented responsibly, minimizing the potential for harm,” he added.