There is nothing you can’t take a punt on these days. The number of leg-byes in a cricket match; seats to be won by Ukip in the European elections; even the outcome of the Russian parliament’s vote on the absorption of Crimea – all are up for grabs if you are so-minded to chance your arm.
Paddy Power caused a stir last month when it offered bets on the outcome of the ongoing Oscar Pistorius murder trial. But it was an advertisement for the wager that really raised the hackles, featuring as it did an image of Oscar Pistorius’s face on an Academy Award with the headline: ‘It’s Oscar Time’. The ad offered “money back if he walks” and proposed to “refund all losing bets on the…trial if he is found not guilty”.
While evidently this proves beyond all doubt that you really can get odds on anything, the firm’s ad has now felt the wrath of the Advertising Standard Authority. In a stinging rebuke, the ASA ruled that it “went further than simply being in poor taste” and was likely to cause “serious or widespread offence” to those who saw it. In short, “it brought advertising into disrepute”.
This last element of the judgement is fascinating because it reminds us what was at stake here: not the trial itself, not the fact of a bookmaker seeking to capitalise on a major news event, but simply a one-off marketing device. Sure enough, the advertisement was quite obviously appalling and good on the ASA for saying so. But what does it actually mean for Paddy Power?
After all, the betting industry does not need a good press or a good reputation to stay in rude health. Nor is there a financial penalty to go alongside the rebuke: Paddy Power have simply been told to behave better in the future.
Many of us have a flutter from time to time on things we know about: often sporting events that we plan to watch. But in a world where there is no limit to the availability of information about any subject, the horizons of the gambler have inevitably broadened. Bookmakers have no interest in restricting them.
So, an offensive ad is in the can, never again to see the light of day. But a rebuke by the regulator of the multi-billion pound advertising sector will surely have no effect whatsoever on the activities the multi-billion pound gambling industry.