Italy and Belgium’s New Gambling Ad Restrictions – What Is Allowed and What Is Not?

Advertising is one of those tools that has the power to define the success or to cause the complete failure of a product or service. And gambling advertising is one of those categories that are prone to quickly attract a stream of negativity if their statements are too bold or if they approach their targeted public with overly aggressive messages.

Europe has been seeking a controlled growth of its gambling industry through the introduction of regulations that concern all aspects of the provision and promotion of gaming and betting services both across land-based facilities and on the Internet. However, given the nature of the product advertised, gambling ads have often found themselves into bitter controversies namely because of overly bold or aggressive messages.

The implementation of restrictive measures regarding the way gambling products and services are advertised within regulated markets has been discussed in a number of European countries. However, two of them have moved this year to implement blanket bans on gambling adverts, a move that has seen a massive backlash from the industry and multiple warnings that a too restrictive regulatory regime creates favorable conditions for the black market to lure customers more easily and thus thrive.

Which are the two countries that are banning gambling ads (almost) completely and how has the industry responded to that? Here is a quick overview of the latest important developments in our industry.

Italy Implements Blanket Ban on Gambling Ads

Italy’s general election this year caused quite a stir in the country and incited big trouble for its gambling industry. After months of unsuccessful attempts, Italian politicians eventually formed a new government in May and it was not long before gambling and gambling advertising in particular appeared on their radar screen.

Prior to the election, the leader of the populist Five Star Movement Luigi di Maio said that should his party enter the Parliament, he would certainly move to implement restrictions on the way gambling services were provided and promoted in his country. Mr. Di Maio assumed the role of a Deputy Prime Minister on June 1, 2018, which gave him the power to proceed with his plans.

The politician quickly introduced his Dignity Decree, a comprehensive legal document that among other things contained provisions for the total and absolute ban of gambling advertising across all channels and through all different means. The Dignity Decree’s wording was quite clear and explicitly prohibited gambling ads on television, radio, across print media, on the Internet (including affiliate marketing), and so on.

The piece of legislation also called for the prohibition of football sponsorship and promotional deals with gambling companies. According to information from the European Gaming and Betting Association, gambling operators annually contribute around €120 million to Italian football in the form of sponsorships. In addition, more than half of all Serie A clubs are currently sponsored namely by gaming and betting companies. Football officials have voiced concerns that the ban would cause great disturbance an “competitive disadvantages to Italian clubs, diverting advertising budgets for our teams abroad.”

Under the Dignity Decree, clubs with existing contracts with gambling companies will be able to fulfill the terms of their contracts.

The Dignity Decree gained the necessary support in the Italian Parliament and was approved quickly by the Deputy Prime Minister’s colleagues. The blanket ban on gambling advertising will now take effect on January 1, 2019.

Reaction

Deputy Prime Minister Di Luigi’s ban on gambling adverts faced quick and serious backlash from the industry. Here it is important to note that the Dignity Decree, including its gambling ads measures, aimed to create social stability and prevent vulnerable people from falling victims to gambling and its dangerous effects.

However, the industry has argued that gambling companies’ ability to advertise their products was part of their license to operate in Italy’s regulated gambling market and that the looming ban was thus violating the rights of licensees. In addition, licensed gambling operators have pointed out that the black market would be the only true winner after the blanket ban is implemented, as it would be more difficult for Italian gamblers to distinguish between licensed and unlicensed operations and they could easily fall prey to murky businesses.

While the gambling ads ban saw a massive backlash and negativity from the industry, including from Italy’s main gambling industry trade body LOGiCO, it should be noted that LeoVegas was the operator that fought most actively against Deputy Premier Di Maio’s measure. The company branded the decision to ban all forms of advertising “completely wrong” and tried to engage in discussion with the Italian government and potentially convince lawmakers that they should be working closely with the industry so that a solution that is favorable to both gambling companies and their customers was found.

It seems, however, that all the efforts have not seen much success and the government is still on track to roll out the blanket ban on gambling ads early next year.

Belgium Follows Suit (Almost)

News emerged last month that Belgium would too implement highly restrictive new rules on gambling advertising. While the new regime is not as stringent as that of Italy, it should be said that gambling companies will certainly find it difficult to advertise their products and services without breaking one new rule or another.

Under the new set of regulations, online casino products will be completely banned from being advertised on Belgian television. Sports betting ads will only air after 8 pm. No sports betting adverts will be allowed during live sports broadcasts. In addition, the new rules prohibit celebrities and athletes from being endorsed by gambling companies.

The new gambling advertising rules also concern digital marketing. Online casino companies would not be allowed to advertise their products on third-party affiliate sites. They will only be able to do that on their own websites and they will have to be particularly careful with the wording of their ads and promotions as they will be promoting “games of chance” from now on.

The new gambling advertising restrictions were spearheaded by Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens of the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams). Minister Koen tabled his proposal for a review of the country’s gambling ad codes last fall. As mentioned earlier, it was last month when the publication of a new Royal Decree officialized the restrictions.

In Conclusion

While it might be a favorite form of entertainment for a lot of people, gambling can easily become a risky and addictive activity. And the protection of gamblers from the dangers of a potentially addictive activity is a matter of both personal responsibility and of governmental oversight. However, overregulation of the gambling industry can be just as dangerous as the lack of any regulations whatsoever. Lawmakers should be able to implement the right amount of control over the provision and promotion of gambling products. And most importantly they should be working closely with the industry in order to have a clear vision of what this industry really is, how it works, whether it needs more restrictions, and when enough restrictions are in place.

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