From Dancing Cows to “The Beast”: do these gambling ads appeal to young people?

England and Wales


On 1st October 2022, the Advertising Standards Authority (the “ASA”) introduced a new gambling advertising rule (a summary of which can be read here) which strengthened the obligations on gambling operators to ensure the content of their advertisements (“ads”) does not appeal to under 18s. At the time, questions were raised as to what would constitute a “strong appeal”, but a number of rulings since the rule was introduced have provided useful insight into what is likely to fall within scope according to ASA.

The ASA has previously upheld rulings in respect of themes and personalities that it considers to appeal to children, including football pundits and star boxers with popular social media followings (see here) and imagery reminiscent of children’s cartoons and story books (see here).

The ASA has recently issued a further three rulings:

  1. A TV advertisement for Lucky Cow Bingo, featuring a dancing cow character, was held not likely to have a strong appeal to under 18s as, on balance, it lacked characteristics appealing to children and featured generic music.
  2. A BetUK radio ad featuring retired footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa breached the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (“BCAP Code”) due to his strong appeal to under 18s.
  3. A BetMGM TV ad featuring comedian and actor, Chris Rock, did not breach the BCAP Code as he was unlikely to be of strong appeal to under 18s.

Dancing Cow in Bingo Ad:

The Advertisement:

A TV ad for Lucky Cow Bingo, aired on 14 December 2023, featured a dancing cow against a purple background. The voiceover stated, “Someone’s happy. Get that lucky cow feeling with The home of brilliant bingo, super slots and beautiful bonuses like this…Get that lucky cow feeling with up to 500 free spins at”

The ad was challenged as being likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s, and therefore breached the BCAP Code.

The Response:

Jumpman Gaming explained that the dancing cow in the ad represented the "Lucky Cow" bingo brand, with the dancing intended to symbolise luck. The cow did not dance to child-friendly music, speak, or directly engage with viewers. Jumpman Gaming ensured the cow was not portrayed as cute or cuddly, and though animated, it lacked cartoonish qualities. It also noted that the cow bore no resemblance to familiar children's animations or toys.

The Ruling:

The ASA did not uphold the complaint.

The ASA acknowledged the cow’s "unusual and whimsical" nature however, considered it did not resemble content typically created for children. Furthermore, the ASA noted that the music featured in the ad was "generic" and did not resemble popular tracks, cartoon themes, nursery rhymes, or well-known songs.

The ASA said, “The combination of the dancing cow and the generic track, whilst fun, was designed to represent the “Lucky Cow” branding and would only be of appeal to the advertiser’s target, adult, audience.”

Key Takeaways:

  1. Ads featuring lifelike animals without exaggerated features or cartoon-like qualities are less likely to be considered strongly appealing to under 18s.
  2. Ads featuring music that is generic and bears no resemblance to other songs or melodies is less likely to be considered strongly appealing to under 18s.
  3. The ASA will assess the ad as a whole. If only a few elements within it appeal to children, the ad is less likely to be regarded as strongly appealing to under 18s.

Betting Ad featuring Non-League Footballer:

The Advertisement:

A radio ad for BetUK, broadcast on 27 September 2023, featured retired footballer Adebayo Akinfenwa. Within the ad, Mr Akinfenwa declared his role as a brand ambassador for BetUK.

The ASA challenged whether the ad breached the BCAP Code by including an individual who was likely to be of strong appeal to under 18s.

The Response:

BetUK responded by stating that it had given “full consideration” to the Joint CAP and BCAP Advertising Guidance ‘Gambling and lotteries advertising: protecting under 18s’ when assessing Mr Akinfenwa. It asserted that he did not strongly appeal to individuals under 18, providing several reasons, including the following:

  • Mr Akinfenwa, aged 41, was a former footballer who retired in May 2022.
  • He was not considered a 'star' player, having never played for a Premier League club, presenting a low risk.
  • Mr Akinfenwa's overall media presence did not suggest strong appeal to children. BetUK cited his Instagram following, where 116,200 followers were under 18 (8% of his total followers), and on Snapchat, where 41,080 followers were under 18 (13% of his total followers).
  • He had a clothing range with broad appeal, marketed to individuals aged 16-66. It confirmed that he did not endorse any child-related products.

BetUK also argued that the ad, which promoted responsible gambling, lacked any content of a childish tone, and was aired during a radio programme targeted towards an adult audience.

The Ruling:

The ASA upheld the complaint.

While the ASA acknowledged Mr Akinfenwa played in the lower leagues of English football, the ASA pointed out he was well-known amongst football fans due to his strength, as demonstrated by his ranking as the strongest player in the FIFA video game series and his nickname “The Beast”.

The deciding factor was Mr Akinfenwa's social media following. Although it was argued that his youth followers on Instagram and Snapchat constituted a small fraction of his overall following, this fraction amounted to at least 150,000 followers, a figure deemed significant by the ASA. Consequently, it concluded that because of the substantial number of under 18 social media followers, Mr Akinfenwa was of inherent strong appeal to individuals under 18. Therefore, the ad was “irresponsible and breached the code.”

The ASA told BetUK that the ad must not appear again in its current form, nor should BetUK include a person or character who had strong appeal to under 18s in its advertising in future.

Key Takeaways:

  1. The ASA will not only consider the proportion of social media followers who are under 18 but will also assess the actual number of followers within this demographic.
  2. An individual's social media presence can serve as a determining factor for the ASA when assessing an individual's appeal to those under 18. See other examples here.

Betting Ad featuring Chris Rock:

The Advertisement:

The BetMGM TV ad aired on 4 October 2023, and featured Chris Rock taking a golden speedboat with a lion, traveling from the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas to the UK, getting ready for the "golden era" of sports betting and online casino.

The Response:

Similar to BetUK, BetMGM responded to the challenge by asserting that it conducted a “full risk assessment of his profile and relevance” to ensure he was not likely to have a strong appeal to under 18s. Below are some of its reasons:

  • Mr Rock is a well-known adult-oriented stand-up comedian and actor, as evidenced by his Netflix special carrying content warnings for mature themes.
  • While a minimal proportion of his work was as a voiceover in children's animated shows, these characters did not visually show him. BetMGM acknowledged Mr Rock's voiceover work in Madagascar and considered that the final film and associated promotional materials featuring Mr Rock were over a decade old. BetMGM also mentioned his role as the narrator in the 2020 film The Witches, stating that because his character was not a lead role or aspirational to children, he would not be considered appealing to those under 18.
  • BetMGM assessed his roles in Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, released in 2010 and 2013. BetMGM argued that despite being accessible on some streaming platforms, these films were not heavily promoted. Additionally, with a 12-age rating, it was not available on child-specific profiles with viewing restrictions. BetMGM also emphasised Mr Rock's changed appearance since the films' release, suggesting a lack of association between his character and his current image in the ad.
  • Mr Rock was active on a small number of social media platforms. Of his 22 million followers worldwide, over 99% were adults. BetMGM estimated that out of his 113,400 followers in the UK, only around 567 were under 18.

BetMGM contended that the ad, featuring a power boat, gambling references, an orchestra, and a song by Public Enemy (popular since the mid-1980s) would appeal to adults. With clear Las Vegas references, a destination for over-21s, it argued the ad was unlikely to strongly appeal to under 18s.

BetMGM also noted consulting the CAP Copy Advice team before releasing a poster from the same campaign, featuring a static image of Mr Rock, and the team raised no concerns.

The Ruling:

The ASA did not uphold the complaint.

The ASA agreed that Mr Rock's comedy and film work were adult orientated. The ASA agreed with BetMGM that since his voiceover roles in Madagascar were over a decade old, any promotional material visually linking him to the characters would not be relevant to those currently under 18. The same reasoning applied to his role in Grown Ups, and his portrayal as a stay-at-home father was not deemed aspirational for young audiences. Although Mr Rock had voiceover roles in other child-oriented films such as The Witches and Paw Patrol, the ASA deemed these roles as minor, lacking significant prominence to strongly appeal to under 18s. Additionally, since these roles were limited to voiceovers or bore no visual or physical similarities to his appearance in the ad, the ASA concluded that within the context of his career, Mr Rock would likely not be of strong appeal to under 18s.

The ASA examined Mr Rock's social media profiles, noting his involvement in a high-profile incident as the host of the March 2022 Oscars, which garnered significant online coverage and memes. However, as the ad was seen 18 months after this incident, the ASA determined that the event and memes did not make him of strong appeal to under 18s. Additionally, it acknowledged his lack of recent activity on platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook, where any content often related to his comedy tours. The ASA also assessed the number of Mr Rock's followers who were under 18. The ASA found that he had a total of 36,900 under 18 followers globally. Since Mr Rock did not have a particularly high profile in the UK, the ASA deemed it unlikely that UK based followers comprised the majority of his under 18 following. As such, the ASA concluded that this data did not indicate a strong appeal to that age group.

Finally, the ASA examined Mr Rock's attire in the ad, noting it was a tuxedo paired with a life jacket, which did not reflect youth culture. While the ad included a speedboat and a lion, potentially appealing to children, its presentation was not considered strongly appealing, particularly alongside an orchestra playing music from a band popular in the 1980s.

For these reasons, the ASA concluded that the ad didn't strongly appeal to children or young people, necessitating no further action.

Key Takeaway:

Whilst not upheld, this case serves as a further reminder that the ASA is actively monitoring the gambling industry for ads that fall foul of the strong appeal rules. Gambling advertisers should be vigilant in complying with advertising standards and carefully assess the potential appeal of its promotions to young audiences, before launching an ad.

Co-authored by Chelsea Kent, Trainee Solicitor