I recently got a gander at the new Canadian TV adverts for PlayNow.com, the provincially run online gaming product from the British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC). The dominant theme of the ad campaign is a guy or guys gambling with beautiful women draped over them, cheering them on, eager to celebrate their good fortune.
People in BC might not be aware, but this kind of advertising wouldn’t be permitted in a jurisdiction like the UK, where the gaming industry is in private hands and has legitimate arms-length regulatory oversight. It wasn’t so long ago that online bookmakers Paddy Power had their knuckles rapped by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for (in the ASA’s view) linking gambling to ‘seduction, sexual success, and enhanced attractiveness.’
All ad campaigns by the major online gaming companies doing business in the UK (Ladbrokes, Bodog, Bet365, etc.) are subject to the ASA’s approval. These same companies are held to an even stricter standard in Canada, courtesy of the provincial monopolies looking after their own. With other jurisdictions following BC’s lead online, the provinces are looking to establish their brands in a favorable, partially protected environment. So it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that they allow themselves a little more marketing latitude than they extend to private companies.
The provinces commonly justify their online ventures as a means of protecting citizens from unscrupulous operators. This not so subtly implies that they are more deserving of your trust than any privately run company. This willingness to trumpet their trustworthiness while simultaneously misleading the public as to their true motivation for going online never fails to blow my mind.
Let’s talk like grownups, okay? The reason the provinces are going online is because they’re broke, and the potential revenues from online gaming are simply too attractive to pass up. So why can’t they just admit that? Why do they have to duck into the phone booth before reappearing in their Superman pajamas, here to save us from the forces of darkness? Especially since the first time they tried to leap a tall building in a single bound, they snagged their cape on a balcony railing and hung there for a month, helpless, while the public pointed and laughed.
We hope that as the firemen hoisted their ladders to rescue PlayNow.com from that balcony, the BCLC execs realized that by rushing their hero into action before he was ready, they’d lost their ability to mislead the public on the issue of trust. From this point forward, they’ll have to compete on how well their product matches up to that of the established international operators. While they’re at it, maybe they should also think about bringing their advertising standards more in line with the regulated industry in London, the center of the online gaming universe.
Companies in the UK market are prohibited from portraying gaming as a seductive, glamorous activity. They can’t even use testimonials from people who say their gambling winnings changed their lives. In Canada, the province decides for itself what is acceptable, just as it decides what passes for ‘security’ on the system’s back end. Self-regulation inevitably leads to no regulation. Which brings us back to the age old question, who watches the watchmen, or at least, who watches their TV adverts?