European countries keep on banning gambling ads. Let’s look at the causes and the effects

About the expert: He is a partner at the 4H Agency. As an employee of international law firms, he dealt with gambling issues in Eastern Europe. Now he is focused on a wider range of international tasks. At 4H, Ivan advises clients on various aspects of the business, with a particular focus on licensing compliance, AML and gambling advertising.

News coming from Belgium makes us really think about it

What happened again

Let's start with the fact that the Belgian Minister of Justice has issued a statement saying that it is high time to ban operators (private companies) from advertising on almost all available platforms (TV, radio, websites, public places, sponsorship).

At the same time, as is usually the case, the statement did not leave colleagues from the industry indifferent. Instead, in general, the news was received not super positively, as it is obvious that such a ban could make the Belgian market less attractive for licensed operators, and support for the sport will naturally decline.

Interestingly, among the reactions to such a statement, it was observed that the proposed ban on advertising (including sponsorship) will apply to all “private companies”, which would mean it does not affect lottery operators in which the state is a key participant. Thus, the lottery operator would not be prohibited from advertising, whilst everyone else is!

In any case, it is premature to talk about what happened (or will happen), as the devil is in the details, or in our case, in the text of the proposed regulation (ban actually). It will be interesting to observe the situation.

Who started, and why did they start, the trend of tightening gambling regulations

Without a doubt, over the past year or two, it has been proposed and implemented several times, the idea of banning (or restricting) advertising of gambling in all its forms. Therefore, you can not say that Belgium is a unique country in this regard.

For example, we can observe very similar bans in Georgia, Spain, Italy, Ireland and a number of other European countries.

It is difficult to say which country was the first to launch this trend. In Italy, such a full-scale advertising ban appeared in 2018, and with huge fines for violating such a ban (in some cases, the amount of the fine was calculated as a percentage of the amount of the advertising contract (including sponsorship contracts).

However, the very gradual inclusion of the issue of banning advertising of gambling businesses on the agenda of European countries clearly tells us about the trend towards tightening legislation in the field of advertising (oh, where are the distant times when you could connect any payment system with a Curaçao license?).

It seems to me that I will not be lying if I say that all such bans are justified by the popular thesis that there is a detrimental effect of such advertising on the number of people (including gambling addicts) who become involved in the gambling business.

At the same time, the question always arises as to how such bans were introduced in each individual country, namely how the so-called calculation of the impact of such advertising on the number of gambling addicts took place (and whether there was any at all).

Here I immediately want to recall Georgia, where, as far as I remember, according to local experts the government did not provide any substantiated studies on the impact of advertising and sponsorship on the number of gambling addicts, limiting itself to loud statements that gambling is bad and should be banned altogether (just kidding, of course, but the general thrust of the message is just that).

It seems that such restrictions that are being introduced are a kind of government response to the dissatisfaction that arises in society with the presence of gambling advertising in all visible and invisible formats (I won’t reveal secrets if I say that if there is a legislative opportunity to advertise both online, almost all advertising platforms are bought out by operators at exorbitant prices and for long periods, thereby closing the opportunity for other participants from purchasing advertising).

Given this factor, it seems that outdoor advertising, TV advertising, and, more recently, sponsorship are the first to suffer under such “reforms”. With regard to outdoor advertising and advertising on TV, one can still understand the reasoned motives for their ban, but when sponsorship comes under the knife, questions begin to arise.

In particular, such questions may be why the state, protecting some public interests (problems of gambling, responsible gambling), enters the zone of other public interests (development of sports) with its prohibitions. I think this is a double edged sword.

Consequences of blocking ads

Undoubtedly, the ban on advertising (even partial) significantly affects the marketing policy of operators, which must adapt their marketing communication to the changed legal requirements (which will certainly affect the attraction of players). This, in particular, may affect the income of the operator.

At the same time, it is important to understand that the operator’s income may not decrease, so within the framework of the general situation, the market volume shows growth from year to year (except for the pandemic period) and advertising limits. The values may not show a significant impact on the market volume.

At the same time, it would also be true to say that advertising restrictions will definitely contribute to the development of the illegal market, since the previously available opportunities for advertising in the legal field will simply go away and operators will lose this “carrot” of legal operation.

As for the sponsorship itself, it is worth noting that the ban on sponsorship has an extremely significant impact on the possibility of developing such sport - Georgia is one of the main examples when sports funding has been extremely slowed down and, as a result, sports entities have lost the opportunity to develop at the level they developed before.

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