Spot the ball

Past controversies of spot the ball competitions
A spot the ball competition consists of players in a picture looking as if they are either viewing the ball or under pressure as they compete for possession of the ball. The football is removed from the picture so you have got to use your skill to decide where it is likely to be.

But not everybody has always agreed that spot the ball was just a simple skilled competition or game. Newspapers in the past that ran this kind of competition have found themselves accused of running a lottery and ended up in court as a direct result.

In 1976 the News of the World found themselves in the Dock over a case that was eventually decided in the House of Lords. The Lords had to decide upon the legality of a spot the ball competition where the position of the ball was not determined by its actual position, but rather by a panel of experts. The statute at issue was section 47(1) of the betting, gaming and lotteries act of 1963. The House of Lords by a majority of 4 to 1 held the competition to be lawful.

Conversely, in the course of speeches made by Lords Hailsham and Reid, the legality of spot the ball was considered when the position of the ball was not determined by a panel of experts but by the actual position of the ball in the pre air brushed picture.

In his speech Lord Hailsham commented as follows. "I come now to the competitions. We were told that spot the ball competitions dated from 1935, that is from the commencement of the act of 1934. All have one feature in common. A picture is showing an actual incident in an actual football game. In the original the football appears in the picture. In the reproduction the ball is eliminated.

Where what is offered to competitors is a series of prizes for the solution of a picture puzzle containing a hidden object and professing to be capable of solution by skill. What the prizes are offered for is not a forecast, there is no future event and no result of a future event in which success or otherwise depends.

The position of a moving ball in the air is hardly either a result or an event, and its cause, the heading or kicking of the ball."

Where the competition was decided by the actual position of the ball. The Lords decided overwhelmingly that spot the ball does not indeed breach the Gaming and lotteries act of 1963. It is in fact deemed this is a skill based game and not a forecast of any future event.

The original form of spot the ball has not been a subject of any subsequent Court Decision. That would change its position.