Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A TV ad for Poker Stars seen on 26 October 2017 included a voice-over which said, “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”.
1. The complainant challenged whether the ad exploited inexperienced poker players by suggesting that they could easily excel at the game and make large winnings.
2. The ASA challenged whether the ad portrayed gambling in the context of recklessness.
1. & 2. Stars Interactive Ltd t/a Pokerstars 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.
1.& 2. Upheld
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.
We understood that excelling at poker required a combination of strategy, skill and luck and that, in order to regularly succeed at bluffing opponents, players would need to have an understanding of all these aspects in addition to real game experience. For instance, players needed to able to identify the specific situations in a game where it was appropriate to bluff. We also understood that these skills were required when playing online poker, not just face to face at the table. As the ad only showed the player being able to bluff in real life, non-poker related circumstances, and did not imply that they had any other experience of the game, we considered that the ad suggested that players could excel at poker without any previous experience of the game. This, therefore, portrayed gambling behaviour that was socially irresponsible.
While we acknowledged that big “all in” bluffs were a part of the game, we considered 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.
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.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 17.3.1 and
portray gambling in a context of toughness or link it to resilience or recklessness
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Stars Interactive Ltd t/a Poker Stars to ensure that in the future their ads did not portray gambling in a socially irresponsible manner or in the context of recklessness.