Updated: 1st Dec 2020
UK gambling operators are feeling a bit of pressure at the minute, especially when it comes to marketing. Last year, the Advertising Standards Agency published new guidelines under Section 16 of the CAP Code. These standards are formulated by the Committee of Advertising Practice, an organisation whose members come from across the advertising industry, and Section 16 is all about gambling advertising. The revised rules specify in detail how “marketing communications for gambling must be socially responsible, with particular regard to the need to protect children, young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited”.
The long and short of it? Companies now have to be very, very careful about how they peddle their wares. Over-zealous and ‘creative’ marketing campaigns that could be seen to target the young or vulnerable are a thing of the past.
To illustrate how the new rules are applied, we’ve compiled a list of 13 gamblers from film, TV and comics whose promotion would contravene the Section 16 on multiple levels. Our odyssey begins with a high-stakes card sharp.
Maverick was a hit US TV series from the 1950s/60s (and also a 1994 film starring Mel Gibson). Played by James Garner in the TV series, the titular hero was a poker playing drifter who roamed the old west with his brother, getting in all kinds of sticky situations. In pretty much every episode, the pair would be presented with a dilemma, usually requiring them to choose between profit and principle. Invariably, both characters would end up ‘doing the right thing’.
Sadly, these admirable ethics wouldn’t let them off the hook with the ASA. Nope. Under Section 16.3.9, the portrayal of gambling in the context of ‘toughness’, ‘resilience’ or ‘recklessness’ would have Maverick circling the wagons once again.
Gambit is a comic book hero from Marvel’s X-Men. Featuring a back-story that’s rather similar to Oliver Twist, Gambit was kidnapped at birth and then fostered by a gang of street urchins. But in a couple of subtle deviations from Dickens’ famed novel, Gambit was then recruited by a disreputable organisation called the Thieves’ Guild and bestowed with the ability to manipulate bio-kinetic energy. Oh, and he could throw energised playing cards at opponents.
At present there exist no specific ASA rules pertaining to card throwing, or indeed the weaponisation of kinetic energy. This notwithstanding, any portrayal of Gambit’s gambling antics would probably fall foul of the CAP Code in two areas: the character appeals to ‘young persons’ (16.3.12) and might be seen to ‘condone criminal or anti-social behaviour’ (16.3.16).
Ian Fleming’s legendary secret service agent doesn’t really need much of an introduction. But we’ll give you one anyway. James Bond is of course the pride of the MI6. Immortalised in some 26 movies, not to mention 40 officially ‘licensed’ books, his derring-do has captured the imagination of millions. As well as protecting all of humanity from a shady cast of villains, Jimmy B has been known to dabble in Baccarat and roulette.
The ASA isn’t half as menacing as SMERSH or the KGB. No matter. Bond would very soon be well and truly tied up in CAP red tape. First of all they’d cite 16.3.8 which prohibits operators from linking gambling to ‘seduction, sexual success or enhanced attractiveness’. Then they’d probably make use of section 16.3.9 (see Maverick). The 16.3.6 protocol would no doubt be seized upon too because of Bond’s habit of using gambling to ‘gain control’ and ‘superiority’.
Veronica Sinclair is a super-villainess from DC Comics. Her guise as high society doyenne in National City means she leads quite a hectic life. But Ms Sinclair doesn’t let a busy social calendar get in her way, oh no. She also successfully juggles the demanding roles of alien ringmaster and human trafficker. Bless. More in keeping with our present context though is Veronica’s amazing talent for calculating gambling odds. They don’t call her Roulette for nothing.
So how would the ASA view this modern villainess? Dimly is probably the answer. As well as being aimed at youngsters (16.3.12), any promotional campaign headed up by Ms Sinclair would ‘exploit the credulity…of… young persons’ – that’s according to 16.3.2 anyway.
Her criminal, anti-social behaviour would also violate 16.3.16. Then there’s section 16.3.3. Sinclair’s talent for number crunching could be seen as an escape from depression: we don’t reckon Veronica Sinclair is a very happy person.
Kevin Spacey’s Micky Rosa is a character from 21 – a 2008 movie adaptation of the book Bringing Down the House. Rosa plays a cold and calculating professor who devices highly sophisticated blackjack strategies to beat the big Vegas casinos. He then sets up a team of card-counting students who set about executing his cunning plans before things start to unravel.
Card-counting isn’t actually illegal in Las Vegas so Micky Rosa probably wouldn’t be considered a ‘criminal’ as set out under Section 16.3.16. With that said, his under-25 team of student card counters would breach 16.3.14. What’s more, many of the characters are seen enjoying the high-life following one of their successful Desert City forays – gambling that’s seen to enhance ‘superiority, recognition or admiration’ is a big no-no as per Section 16.3.6.
Good old Fred Flintstone, the lead character from Hanna Barbera’s popular cartoon sitcom and later live action movies. Husband to Wilma, father to Pebbles, this loveable loud-mouth fronted a TV show that became a primetime fixture during the 1960s. Although a talented bowler and pool player, Fred was also a compulsive and degenerate gambler, frequently losing all his money betting on the Jurassic gee-gees.
As a character from a kids’ cartoon, Fred is bang to rights on 16.3.2. He might also be called up on 16.3.12 (see Ms Sinclair) as well as 16.3.1 – Fred’s gambling antics could be seen as ‘socially irresponsible’ with the potential of leading to ‘financial harm’. However, he’s a family man so the 16.3.5 directive about ‘gambling taking priority over family…’ probably doesn’t apply.
Despite being killed off quite early in the latest series of Star Wars movies, Han Solo still remains a Sci-Fi icon – maybe because his demise helped him escape the kind of character assassination that later befell Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker. Um, anyway, the intergalactic smuggler was one of the main protagonists in the original films. While not an inveterate gambler, Solo did win his beloved Millennium Falcon in a card game called Sabacc.
Naturally, section 16.3.2 is in the bag. The Sabacc win might also contravene multiple stipulations under 16.3.6 regarding ‘self-image’, ‘admiration’ and ‘recognition’. After all, the Millennium Falcon does wonders for Solo’s reputation. His haphazard, ‘reckless’ piloting of said space craft might also raise a few flags vis-à-vis Section 16.3.9.
Ok, another Star Wars character but we couldn’t resist. Lando Calrissian was portrayed as a roguish gambler/businessman and first appeared in the Empire Strikes Back. Under pain of sanction from the Empire, he lured Han Solo into the clutches of Darth Vader, before making amends in Return of the Jedi. In the climactic final sequence, Lando borrowed the Millennium Falcon, blew up the Death Star and safely returned Solo’s cherished flying machine, sans Rectenna dish. ‘Not a scratch’ – uh, not quite.
Well, Section 16.3.2 is a no-brainer, naturally. The self-image caveat in 16.3.6 might also be something of a regulatory impediment for the Old Smoothie.
Le Chiffre is one of James Bond’s many adversaries. A mathematical genius and talented gambler, Le Chiffre is one of the more intelligent antagonists to face off against 007. But like all top villains, he puts his talents to very bad use – financing international terrorism is one of his favourite pastimes. In between bouts of being evil, this pale-faced, benzo-inhaling weirdo is quite keen on high-stakes poker.
As far as Le Chiffre is concerned, gambling could definitely be considered ‘an escape from personal, professional or educational problems’ (16.3.3). I mean come on. Anybody that stores razor blades in their shoe heels is probably hearing voices and has some pressing issues, usually of a personal nature. He’s also a baddie so the ASA would probably cite the 16.3.16 edict relating to criminality. Not that it would do them much good, you understand. We don’t reckon Le Chiffre sullies his hands with ‘rules’.
Jim Bennett is a character from The Gambler – the 2014 remake of a 1974 crime drama starring James Caan. Both movies tell the story of a University lecturer whose compulsive gambling gets out of hand in a big way. The 2014 installment features a similar narrative to the original with Mark Wahlberg playing James’ Toback’s profligate professor. Addiction, debt, crime and redemption are the themes here, in what amounts to a cautionary tale about the dangers of mindless gambling.
The ASA bods might have a few concerns with this one – 16.3.1 immediately springs to mind – Jim’s gambling behaviour is ‘socially irresponsible’ and does indeed lead to ‘financial, social and emotional harm. Towards the movie’s climax, he manages to pull off a point-shaving scheme to settle his debts. This suggests that gambling could be ‘a solution to financial concerns’ (16.3.4).
If it weren’t for that point-shaving scheme though, and that tagline on the movie poster of “The Only Way Out Is All In”, Jim might just get a reprieve, as there’s a general exemption for “marketing communications to counter problem gambling that are responsible and unlikely to promote a brand or type of gambling”.
In the classic 1961 film The Hustler, Paul Newman’s Eddie Felson is an itinerant pool hustler who dreams of becoming a major-league pool-shark. To shred his small-time reputation and play for higher-stakes, he decides to take on the legendary Minnesota Fats – the best pool hustler in the US. What follows is an entertaining story which sees Felson overcome various setbacks to eventually triumph over his nemesis. There, we just ruined the film for you. So how would the ASA view the portrayal of Fast Eddie’s antics?
Where do we even start? The act of ‘hustling’ is probably ‘socially irresponsible’ as stated in section 16.3.1. Then there’s section 16.3.4: the movie flirts with the ideas of gambling being a solution to money problems and an alternative to employment: on two occasions, Eddie wins thousands of dollars playing high-stakes pool. His extravagant big-money betting habits are pretty ‘reckless’ too (Section 16.3.9) – a $3000 on a single game of pool? Gulp.
Two and a Half Men was a hit CBS hit sitcom that ran for twelve seasons. It was basically about self-indulgent jingle-writer Charlie Harper, his awkward brother Alan and Alan’s slothful son, Jake. Charlie Sheen’s portrayal of the alcoholic, womanising Harper was truly a case of life imitating art. And the interplay between him and Jon Cryer’s Alan was often very, very funny. Sarcastic housekeeper Berta is also worth a mention too – her barbed asides (usually aimed at Alan) are comedy gold.
As well as chasing women and drinking excessively, Harper is a regular gambler. In numerous episodes he’s depicted betting on horse racing and football games. That he often does this alone may ‘suggest that solitary gambling is preferable to social gambling’ (16.3.11). The 16.3.14 commandment also declares that ‘No-one may behave in an adolescent, juvenile or loutish way’. We assume this isn’t intended as a guideline for society in general, but instead relates to the promotion of gambling. It might be said that Harper’s behaviour is at times adolescent and at a push, quite loutish.
Nicholas Powell is a professional gambler from the Spiderman comics, who realises that gambling isn’t quite enough to satisfy his sizeable appetite for risk. So he decides that a career change is in order and becomes a super mercenary called ‘Chance’. Bedecked in full combat uniform, he immediately sets about murdering people for money which naturally brings him into conflict with Spiderman.
Chance appeals to kids therefore defying sections 16.3.12 and 13. And Powell’s role as a professional gambler would have the ASA fulminating because of the 16.3.4 dictum (see Bennett, Fast Eddie Felson). Chance’s habit of staking his payments on the successful outcome of his missions would also result in a charge of ‘toughness’ and ‘recklessness’ as enshrined in Section 16.3.9.
So there you have it – 13 fictional gamblers whose inclusion in any sort of ad campaign would result in a major slap-down from the Advertising Standards Agency.