A premium rate call based scratchcard with no clear free entry route, offering ‘prizes’ of computers to most participants which turned out to be second-hand with no operating systems. It was like shooting fish in a barrel for the ASA.
Topic: Games of chance and skill
Who: Consumer First Marketing Limited
Where: The Advertising Standards Authority
When: January 2004
A magazine insert scratchcard produced by Consumer First Marketing Limited was the subject of no less than four "complaint upheld" findings by the Advertising Standards Authority, with complaints having been received from Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Dorset, Hertfordshire, London, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Somerset.
The scratchcard was headed "£1 million in prizes to be won" and continued "Scratch here first to win! Three matching cards wins first class prizes, two matching cards wins second class prizes." Below the heading was the text "first class prizes £25,000 – Pentium home computer laptop computer – plus £1,000 cash [various other prizes then described] Second class prizes £10 HMV voucher – cameras – alarm clocks."
The rules stated that there were 3,250 computers to be one. They also provided that "Pentium computer subject to £99 plus VAT one year compulsory warranty and delivery charge."
Complaint one = two
The first complaint was really two. Firstly the description of the computers as "prizes" was questioned. Because all participants received the computer, it was surely not appropriate to describe it as a prize at all, but more as a gift.
The second arm of this first complaint was that the description of the computers as a prize was misleading on another count, namely that "winners" were actually required to buy a warranty for £116.33 before receiving a computer. The ASA upheld the complaint on both counts here, asking the promoters to in future distinguish more clearly between "prizes" and "gifts" and to state clearly that receipt of the computer was subject to participants buying a warranty.
The second complaint was that since all the computers were refurbished rather than brand new, this should have been made absolutely clear on the card itself. The ASA agreed and upheld the complaint here.
The third complaint was that at least some of the "prize" computers came without an operating system and winners were required to buy Microsoft Windows before the computer could work. The promoters argued that they should not be required to provide one, but the ASA disagreed. It said that since the absence of an operating system was an important condition likely to affect a recipient's decision to respond, this should be stated clearly in future.
The last complaint was that there was no valid free entry route. This was required, because otherwise the event would be illegal under the 1976 Lotteries and Amusements Act. From the copy in the scratchcard, it was unclear how any "prize" could be obtained without calling the premium rate number given. As having to call a premium rate number is regarded as a "contribution" and the combination of a contribution and winning by pure luck is an illegal lottery, a free entry route was essential to ensure that the game was legal. Consumer First Marketing asserted that there was indeed a free entry route, but no evidence of its existence was provided and again the complaint was upheld.
Why this matters:
As well as being contrary to the Code on at least four counts, this might well have received the attentions of trading standards in terms of the misleading descriptions of the computers by failing to indicate that they were second hand and the Gaming Board in terms of the possible offences under the Lotteries and Amusements Act. It is also worth noting that under the current proposals for gambling law reform in the UK, events of this kind look on the cards to be completely outlawed within the next two years. In the meantime, operators of this type of mechanic should check their legal responsibilities and ensure that the manner of presentation and the rules for these mechanics are compliant.