Web entry not enough for TV competitions, says Gambling Commission

Live television competition operators cannot simply offer a free internet entry form in order to escape their competitions being regulated as lotteries, according to new guidance from the Gambling Commission.

The new Gambling Act, which came into force in September, allows the Gambling Commission to regulate lotteries and identifies what is a lottery and what is a competition. Something cannot be a lottery if it can be entered free, a rule that led television producers to claim that an online entry capability was a free entry route, allowing them to avoid being regulated as lottery operators.

Guidance from the Gambling Commission has said that in fast-moving live television competitions that need instant entries, an online option cannot count as the kind of free entry system that would allow producers to avoid running a lottery.

"The Gambling Commission don't accept that argument," said Susan Biddle, an expert in gambling law at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "They accept that internet use is effectively free but they say that in live quizzes where answers are needed in a very short time frame many people don't have access to the web."

Pinsent Masons is running free OUT-LAW Breakfast Seminars on the new regime for promotions throughout October.

The Gambling Commission, which was itself created by the Gambling Act, has said that it will take seriously any breaches of the new, tighter law. Competition operators are widely seen as having taken a cavalier approach to some of the previous rules.

A competition can escape being deemed a lottery if it depends on a winner exercising skill, judgment or knowledge. Many competitions used facile questions such as 'What is the capital of France?' to attempt to satisfy that requirement.

The Gambling Commission said that it will treat that requirement far more seriously under the new regime.

"There are many competitions which ask just one simple question, the answer to which is widely and commonly known or is blatantly obvious from the material accompanying the competition," said guidance issued by the Commission. "The Commission considers that these do not meet the test in the Act."

Controversy has dogged television quizzes in recent months. ITV broadcaster GMTV was fined a record £2 million last week by media regulator Ofcom and £250,000 by premium rate phone line regulator ICSTIS over competitions it had run.

Broadcasters are likely to be particularly sensitive to rules surrounding competitions. Biddle said that she would advise caution in the early days of the new regulations.

"The rules have been made tougher, and there will be a period of bedding down while it is decided what is allowed," she said. "It will be easier to satisfy the rules if the competition has a series of questions rather than just one. You will still be able to run a one-question competition but the type of brain-dead trivia competition will not satisfy the test."

"My instinct if I was advising someone is to go for lots of skill in a competition and then if they want to, to gradually reduce the level of skill," said Biddle. "The Gambling Commission will prosecute somebody to show that they have got teeth. Whether they will choose an easy win is not clear."