British Airways Lands in Hot Water Over ‘Glamorous Gambling’ Ad

Posted on: January 9, 2019, 09:17h. 

Last updated on: January 9, 2019, 09:17h.

A British Airways TV spot has caused a stir in the UK over its apparent glamorization of gambling. The advertisement for British Airways Holidays features a couple returning to their room from the pool of a hotel-casino and appearing to easily win money on slot machines on the way.

British Airways
Flying into a rage: The Advertising Standards Authority confirmed it had received several complaints against the latest BA ad spot, with claims that it makes gambling appear “glamorous and frivolous.” (Image: British Airways)

“We had a bit of spare change so we put it in the slot machines … and won a couple of dollars. So we put it back in and the next thing we knew we’d won $493. Luckiest dip ever,” they said.

It seems innocuous enough, but in a country with strict rules about how gambling can be represented in advertising — a subject that’s never far away from the headlines –- it’s got a lot of people’s backs up.

‘What Were They Thinking?’

In fact, according to The Guardian, a cross-party group of lawmakers led by the Labour MP Carolyn Harris plans to write to BA to condemn it for “glamorizing gambling.”

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian that the ad spot was “utterly appalling” and wondered “what on earth were they thinking?”

The UK Gambling Act (2005) legalized gambling advertising on television and included strict limitations on what can be shown. It is illegal, for example to suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial concerns, or to link gambling to “seduction, sexual success, or enhanced attractiveness.”

But these rules are meant to apply to gambling operators and since the airline is not directly advertising gambling, it can’t be penalized under the gambling act.

But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed it had received several complaints on grounds that the spot “promotes gambling and portrays it in a glamorous and frivolous way, and that it’s therefore irresponsible.”

The ASA could force BA to table the advertisement if it’s deemed inappropriate.

Cleared for Take Off

A British Airways Holidays spokesperson said the spot was one of a series which has been broadcast over the last three years, designed to promote “a range of special memories that millions of British Airways Holidays’ customers experience when they travel with us every year.”

He noted it had been cleared by the advertising industry body, Clearcast, which had deemed it appropriate for broadcast.

But Matt Zarb-Cousin of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling — whose organization spearheaded a successful campaign to reduce the maximum odds of fixed-odds betting terminals — had a different take on the matter.

“If BA instead glorified pot smoking to promote a route to Amsterdam in adverts shown before the watershed, it would surely raise some eyebrows. There is very little difference here,” he said.