In 1995 Lee O’Brien and 1,471 other punters entered MGN’s Mystery Bonus Cash Hotlin” prize game and thought they had won £50,000.
Topic: Games of chance and skill
Who: Mirror Group Newspapers ("MGN") and Lee O'Brien
When: July 2000
Where: High Court of Justice Liverpool
In 1995 Lee O’Brien and 1,471 other punters entered MGN’s "Mystery Bonus Cash Hotline" prize game and thought they had won £50,000. But not a penny prize money was awarded after a cock-up by the organisers meant that scratchcards issued with The People were eligible as well as those issued with the Mirror. This led to the 1472 winning cards being declared void, a decision which Mr O’Brien and his co-punters claimed was a breach of contract.
The legally-aided case came to court in July 2000, with MGN defending a potential aggregate £100 million damages payout on the basis that the game rules allowed them to declare any cards void. Mr O’Brien countered this by arguing that on the day he entered the game by making a premium rate telephone call, no rules were published in the newspaper, so they could not apply. MGN parried this thrust with an argument that although the rules were not published in every newspaper issue that promoted the game, they did appear in the Mirror 8 times, the Sunday Mirror once and the People twice. In any event , they said, all readers knew the rules were not published every day and knew what they said anyway.
In the event, Mr O'Brien's virtual acceptance in the witness box that he must have seen the rules at some stage during the promotion helped MGN to a victory, with the case thrown out.
Why this matters:
When participants enter prize games of any kind a contract is almost invariably created. As this case shows, what the terms of that contract are can mean the difference between a promotional glitch catered for in the rules and a £100 million damages payout. Even though MGN won through in this particular case, it sends out two messages loud and clear. First, the best policy with games of chance or skill is always to show the rules in full at the point when punters are able to enter, whether this is off the page, on-line or by telephone. Failure to do this or references to the event being "subject to normal rules" create a risk that disappointed participants will try to make life difficult for you by arguing that the rules are not incorporated into the prize event contract.
Secondly, rules should seek to cater for cock-ups and other unforeseen eventualities by giving the promoter wide discretion to take steps such as declaring entries void where circumstances require. Other situations promoters should consider catering for include system failures with on-line prize events, bounced cheques for pay-to-enter skill competitions, winners of cars being disqualified from driving. There can be no guarantees that all such provisions will survive the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, and in this regard advice should always be taken, but carefully drafted terms of this kind can save considerable aggravation later.