UK Airline Criticized for Glamorizing Gambling

Passenger plane flying above sea against sky background

The airline British Airways is being widely condemned for a new TV advertisement that appears to glamorize gambling.

The ad is part of a series for British Airways Holidays, an arm of the company that sells all-inclusive travel packages. In a report by The Guardian, politicians, anti-gambling campaigners and social media users were all quick to criticize the airline for making gambling look attractive and easy.

“Luckiest dip ever”

The short advertisement, which has been screening in the UK since January 7, shows an attractive millennial couple returning to their hotel room after a swim in the pool.

On the way, they stop at the slot machines in the hotel casino, gamble a little “spare change” and win “a couple of dollars” that they decide to gamble with again. They then say: “The next thing we knew we’d won $493 (£387). Luckiest dip ever.”

Politician Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the ruling Conservative Party, described the ad as “utterly appalling” and said he would raise the matter with MPs as a matter of urgency.

The GambleAware charity, which campaigns to reduce the harms gambling can cause, pointed out that the TV commercial failed to carry the usual warnings about responsible gambling, which gambling operators themselves must include in their advertisements.

GambleAware CEO Marc Etches said: “Companies need to recognize their responsibility to make sure people are aware of the risks of gambling.”

Condemnation on Twitter was also loud, with people saying “not cool, BA, seriously misjudged,” “Surely I can’t be the only person outraged by the new British Airways ad and the way it glorifies gambling?” and “Shameful #BA ad that glamorises gambling”.

Regulation of gambling ads

The UK’s advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, confirmed it had already received a number of complaints, but did not specify how many. A spokesperson said complaints had centered on the gambling being depicted in a “glamorous and frivolous way, and that it’s therefore irresponsible.”

The ASA’s code for TV commercials has strict rules on how gambling may be portrayed. In general advertisements, which the BA ad falls under, the code says: “Advertisements must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behavior that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm.”

A spokesperson for the airline, in response to the furor, said the ad had been passed as acceptable by Clearcast, whose responsibility is to check all TV commercials before they are broadcast to ensure they comply with the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising, which sets out what is and isn’t permitted.

Clearcast had posted a tweet in October 2017 that said: “No indication that problem gambling is a result of ads. New guide coming will address issues like the tone of #gambling ads #adregupdate”. However, it is unclear if its guide has been updated.

Operators restrict own commercials

The British Airways row comes on the back of the recent decision by gambling operators in the UK to voluntarily restrict their television advertising during the screening of live sports events. The so-called “whistle to whistle” ban was hailed widely as a step in the right direction to discourage reckless betting.

The UK is estimated to have 400,000 gambling addicts and around 2m problem gamblers. The issue is considered so serious that the government announced this week it was to fund special clinics to help gamblers overcome their compulsions.

Pressure is now mounting on British Airways from all sides to withdraw what is likely its most controversial advertisement ever.