Legal Q&A

My firm runs UK-wide prize promotions. I have heard that the new rules will not cover Northern Ireland - will this impact on our ability to run promotions in the province?

The Gambling Act 2005 is due to make changes to the laws governing prize draws and competitions from this September.

For the past 30 years, UK marketers have wrestled with arcane rules that were difficult to apply. So it was a breath of fresh air when we were promised easy-to-understand prize promo rules, courtesy of the Gambling Act.

But there were doubts as to how user-friendly the rules were. For instance, on promotions involving skill, the test was whether the skill "could reasonably be expected to prevent a significant proportion of persons who participate ... from receiving a prize" ... or participating. If this was the case, then even an exclusively premium-rate call entry mechanic would be legal, provided there was no "gaming", but this is hardly a simple test and what is gaming?

Then just as marketers were getting to grips with this, it dawned on us all that the laws would not apply to Northern Ireland. No longer could those magic words "Open to all UK residents" be mindlessly copied out in prize-draw promotion rules without thinking: would this mechanic be legal under Northern Ireland law?

Luckily, there will be many prize-promo mechanics that will be legal whether the old or new laws apply. But there will be others, such as "purchase to enter" prize draws without an alternative free-entry route, which will be illegal in Ulster.

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