Gambling companies Hillside (UK Sports) LP t/a Bet365 (“Bet365“), Coral Interactive (Gibraltar) Ltd (“Coral“) and Petfre (Gibraltar) Ltd (“Totesport”) were recently challenged by the UK advertising regulator, Advertising Standards Authority on using images of Jordan Spieth, US Open champion, on their Twitter feeds to promote betting.

Under the UK non-broadcast advertising industry code (the CAP Code), marketing communications (which include tweets) must be socially responsible; and must not include people aged 25 or under, or someone who appears to be so, if such person plays a “significant role” in promoting gambling and betting. An exception to this rule was introduced in 2013 for instances where an individual under the age of 25 appears in a bet directly or alongside “specific betting selections”. This is allowed so long as the image used shows them “in the context of the bet and not in a gambling context” ( see. rules 16.1 and 16.3.14 of the CAP Code (Gambling)).

All three gambling operators tweeted images of Jordan Spieth speculating in different ways on how many more Majors he might win. On 22 June Bet365 tweeted: “FILL IN THE BLANK: I think Jordan Spieth will win___ Majors in 2015″. Coral tweeted: “Jordan Spieth: The Masters – [tick symbol] US Open – [tick symbol] The Open – 11/2 All 4 – 25/1”; and Totesport tweeted: “We have gone 3/1 (from 15/8) for Jordan Spieth to win the #USOpen! Will NOT last!″.

The gambling operators argued a range of factors as to why they had not breached the CAP Code: 1) the tweet was not an ad nor did it contain promotional content and as such was not marketing communication for the purposes of the CAP Code; 2) if the tweet was considered an ad, it was socially responsible because the Twitter feed was age gated with all followers required to be age 18 or over; 3) the tweet simply reported on a major sporting event and did not promote specific bonus offers; and 4) Jordan Spieth was 21 years old and not a child or a young person (defined as people aged 16 or 17 in the CAP Code).

In response to the above, the ASA stated that the ads were “irresponsible” and that ads directly connected with the supply of goods or services appearing on marketers own websites or in other non-paid-for space online under their control (such as non-paid-for Twitter content) fall within the remit of the CAP Code. Even though the Bet365 tweet did not contain any odds, it was still found by the ASA to be an ad, because it encouraged readers to predict how many Major golf tournaments Jordan Spieth might win in 2015 and therefore to consider gambling. Further, the ASA emphasised to all three gambling operators that people under the age of 25 must not be featured in marketing communications, save where they appeared in a place where a bet could be placed directly through a transactional facility, such as their own website. All three gambling operators were instructed not to use these ads again in their current form.

Following these rulings, CAP has updated its Advice Online Entry, Betting and gaming: Featuring under 25’s. This advice now contains a new section titled, ‘Under 25s are unlikely to be acceptable in gambling ads on social media’.

Further information on the ASA’s decisions may be found here: Bet365, Coral, Totesport.