ASA bans PokerStars ad for promoting “reckless” gambling

Business News

A TV commercial for Pokerstars has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the watchdog upheld a complaint about the ad’s portrayal of reckless gambling.

The ASA told Pokerstars that the ad must not appear again in its current form after it objected to the manner in which the spot portrayed bluffing, which the watchdog said implied that inexperienced players could easily excel at the game.

okerstars said the ad showed a man playing a friendly game of poker at home with a small group of friends and was intended to reflect a small, relaxed environment.

They said there was no reference to or suggestion of any financial reward or inducement to play and no money was shown during the ad. When the voice-over stated that bluffing was the only way to win it was only in reference to the hand that the player had and was not meant to relate to every hand in the game. They considered that did not equate to or suggest a financial reward of any kind in relation to winning and that the chips used were indicative of tracking a players progress and not representative of money.

They further said that the ad was very different in content, tone and style to an ad which suggested consumers could win lots of money. They said that the phrase “great poker player” meant a person who was very good at poker and that the humour in the ad was meant to show the main protagonist as an individual in possession of one of the skills necessary to play poker and how it was used in other aspects of their life.

They also said that bluffing was commonly understood to play an integral part in a poker player’s success and was a skill readily understood by novice players. They considered that bluffing was an integral part of other card and board games and that many people would be proficient in the skill prior to playing poker. Further, they considered that bluffing an opponent was making a calculated and skilled decision.

They referenced an American court case which they said stated that bluffing was an integral element of the game of poker. They therefore considered that the ad did not portray gambling in the context of recklessness because bluffing was not a reckless act in itself and was inherent in all card games as well as many other sports, games and competitive endeavours.

Clearcast said there was no suggestion that any player featured in the ad was new to playing poker and there was no message to viewers who may be new to poker that they should start playing. The players in the ad appeared familiar with the game, with their own poker table at home. They also considered that there was no insinuation that it would be easy to win a hand or that viewers might make large winnings, which was emphasised by the fact that there was no money featured in the ad and there was nothing to indicate how much the chips were worth.

They said that the ad contained no suggestion that winning at poker was easy and that most consumers would consider the message to be that bluffing was an essential skill and integral part of the game of poker and that it could sometimes help win a hand. They did not consider that it exploited new players. They also considered that the ad illustrated effective bluffing can often lead to a winning hand and that it was an important skill for a poker player. They considered that the ad portrayed an important poker skill and that the context is not reckless.

The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the ad to mean that if they could bluff through the real life experiences shown in the ad, for example convincing themselves they would use a pull-up bar, then they would already be a “great poker player” and could excel at the game.

We considered that the real life scenarios depicted in the ad gave the impression that a player could win at poker based on an ability to bluff in these circumstances and that this was further emphasised by the opening line “Here you are, the moment when bluffing is the only way to win” and the line “use that talent because if you can bluff yourself you can bluff anyone”. Further, there was no money shown in the ad, nor any value attributed to the chips used on the table. At the end of the ad the player was shown going “all in”, on a bluff, risking all his chips on the basis that he could win by bluffing.

Although it was not clear the amount, or if any, money was to be won in the game shown in the ad, we noted that the service that was being advertised included playing for money and that this would emphasise the interpretation that money was being played for in the game shown on screen. We 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.

For the reasons above, we concluded that the ad portrayed gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible and in the context of recklessness and therefore was in breach of the Code.