ASA rules against PokerStars

United Kingdom

On 4 April 2018 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published a ruling on a television advertisement run by Interactive Ltd (t/a PokerStars). The ASA found that the advert was socially irresponsible and portrayed gambling in a context of recklessness and therefore was in breach of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code).

The Advertisement

The advertisement, which featured a man playing poker, ran the following voice-over: “Here you are, the moment when bluffing is the only way to win, you’re freaking out kiddo, but think about all those times you bluffed yourself. Like the pull-up bar waiting for you to get back in-shape, that book you’re definitely going to read, your parents never ever had sex. Use that talent because if you can bluff yourself, you can bluff anyone. PokerStars, you’re already a great poker player”.

A complainant challenged whether the advert exploited inexperienced poker players by suggesting they could easily excel at the game and make large winnings through bluffing, and the ASA also investigated the advert on the grounds of portraying gambling in the context of recklessness.

The ASA’s Decision

PokerStars argued that there was no reference to or suggestion of any financial reward or inducement to play and no money was shown during the ad. Further, the operator argued that when the voice-over stated “bluffing is the only way to win”, this was only in reference to the hand that the player had and did not mean every hand in a game of poker. PokerStars also pointed out that bluffing was an integral part of poker and other games and that the decision to bluff an opponent was a calculated and skilled decision, and therefore not reckless.

The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the advert to mean that if they could bluff through the real life experiences listed in the voiceover then they could be a “great poker player”. Whilst no money was visible in the advert (or value attributed to the chips used), at the end of the ad the player was shown going “all in” on a bluff. Although it was not clear that any money was at stake, the ASA noted that as PokerStars offered a real-money service, this emphasised the interpretation that money was being played for in the game shown on screen. The regulator therefore considered that “the ad would be interpreted by viewers to mean that they could make large winnings by making big ‘all in’ bluffs based solely on their experience of bluffing in real life without any experience of playing poker”.

The ASA did acknowledge that the decision to bluff required an understanding of strategy, skill and luck, and that this was true for both online and face-to-face poker. As the ad only showed the player being able to bluff in real life, and did not imply that he had any other game experience, however, the regulator considered that the ad suggested that players could excel at poker without any previous experience of the game. In their view this therefore portrayed gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible. Finally, the regulator held that “the message that bluffing should be attempted without any experience of playing poker or any understanding of poker strategy portrayed gambling behaviour in the context of recklessness and in a manner that could lead to financial harm”. The ASA consequently ruled that the advert was in breach of rules 17.3.1 and 17.3.8 of the BCAP Code.

Click here to see the full ASA ruling.