A Mecca Bingo advert has been criticized by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for suggesting that gambling can boost self-esteem.

The ad, posted on Instagram in August 2023, featured two images of drag queen Baga Chipz. The image on the left showed the person with a neutral facial expression, while the image on the right showed them in costume, smiling and wearing a red, sparkly dress. They also wore a full face of makeup and held a glass of champagne.

The ad’s tagline read “Before playing Mecca Bingo vs. after playing Mecca Bingo” above the accompanying images. The post’s caption read: “A good game can change you!” Don’t you just love that post-bingo glow? Only over 18 years old. BeGambleAware.org. DrinkAware.co.uk. T&Cs apply.” Hashtags included #meccabingo, #bagachipz, #winningfeeling and #feelinggood.

Two complaints challenged whether the ad suggested that gambling could improve self-esteem or self-image.

Recent complaints about gambling adverts lodged with the ASA have questioned whether the adverts displayed may be attractive to under-18s. For this reason, the ASA subsequently criticized ads featuring Anthony Joshua and Gary Neville, as well as an ad featuring Mason Mount, who is under 25 years old.

The Defense of Mecca Bingo

Mecca Bingo said it was never the intention of the advertising to create the impression that gambling could improve personal qualities. Instead, it said the purpose of the ad was to communicate that it offered entertaining experiences. Mecca Bingo also noted that it regularly collaborates with Baga Chipz.

It was explained that the use of “transform” was intended to indicate how a person might feel after a night at a Mecca Bingo event. Mecca Bingo also said that references to transformations are common in the drag industry and those who know Baga Chipz are aware of this connection. Baga Chipz appeared on the first season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK.

The operator said it had deliberately omitted references to bingo winnings to avoid the impression that a “feel-good factor” could only come from winning bingo.

However, Mecca Bingo also said it understood how the advert may have been misinterpreted. This might have happened if it had been seen by someone who didn’t know the context.

The ad has been permanently removed.

Complaints upheld

The ASA ruled that the ad breached CAP Code Rules 16.1 and 16.3.6.

The standards agency viewed the neutral facial expression in the first image as a contrast to the happier facial expression in the second image. It was also noted that the glass of champagne as well as the “more frisky clothing in the form of a sequined outfit with matching jewelry” indicated “a higher level of self-confidence and improved self-image.”

It was also decided that the placement of the text implied that a person could achieve this higher self-image through playing bingo.

The hashtags were also evaluated. The ASA said that #winningfeeling and #feelinggood suggested that a person could boost their confidence by winning bingo games rather than just playing them.

“We acknowledged that the ad featured well-known drag queen Baga Chipz and that the two images, combined with a reference to the transformation, would have been interpreted by some viewers as a reference to drag queens,” the ASA said.

“We still considered the overall impression of the ad, particularly through the contrasting images, and suggested that gambling could improve a person’s self-image or self-esteem.”