Gambling Ads Revisited (Rumblings in the Eurozone) By Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports August 22, 2018 at 2:00 am There have been rumblings across the Eurozone ever since the European Commission (EC) sheathed its claws on matters gambling, announcing in the summer of 2017 that it was suspending all infringement proceedings and treatment of complaints related to gambling. This was a matter of strategic choice of priorities, said the EC. As one might expect, because that EC decision effectively leaves control of gambling law in the hands of national governments, we’ve since seen a wave of changes proposed for and made to national gambling laws. Most of those changes have taken place without EC intercedence, but there are cases where the European Court of Justice has intervened. For example, the EU Court found that Hungary’s iGaming law was incompatible with the wider laws of the Union. But one area where it’s hard to see the EU intervening is with advertising legislation – the topic of this article – unless it somehow involved discrimination. With the EC out of action, the recent response to a huge wave of growth in online gambling, and the possibilities of addiction and huge losses which go along with that, has been largely at the national level. Part of that response, towards restrictions in advertising, has been gaining strength across many parts of Europe. That is mostly starkly manifest in the recent moves in Italy to completely ban all ads related to gambling, sparing only the institution that is the National Lottery. The gambling industry in Italy, the second largest in Europe, is still reeling from the blow. The cost to Italian football team revenues alone will be eye-watering, well up into eight figures. Other nations don’t look set to go as far as the extreme, some would say populist route that Italy is now taking. But there is visible concern building in several (current) EU nation states that gambling ads have gone too far, become too ubiquitous, and been too sloppy in terms of reaching, or even encouraging, children with regard to gambling products. The UK Gambling Commission recently announced a much stricter set of provisions for overseeing gambling advertising breaches, including introducing a regime of uncapped, unlimited fines. Of note is tying license conditions to the practice of abiding by advertising restrictions, in particular with reference to a regulation that firms must not create advertising content which is of specific appeal to children, something several firms have been recently penalised for in the UK. Additionally, gambling operators in the UK will now be legally responsible for such failings by their affiliates. There was already a great deal of pressure on the industry to reform affiliate relations. Some believe that Sky Betting and Gaming’s suspension of their affiliate programme last year was a reaction to that pressure, and the difficulty of ensuring compliance across affiliates. In Ireland, the country’s Football Association has just announced plans for an open meeting in which gambling sponsorship will be discussed. That will be in the face of potential gambling advertising restrictions under Ireland’s reformed gambling laws, if and when they successfully make their way through committee. Spain is having a second run at gambling advertising law reform after a 2015 effort fell apart due to structural changes, specifically in the nature of the regulator during that time. Such a failure reads, not for the first time today, as Kafkaesque in its absurdity. The new open consultation began at the end of last year, seeking to pave the way for new laws on the matter. Cliffs notes for all this, then: across a number of nations, due to a distinct lack of any coherent, over-arching self-regulation in the industry, regulators are now upping their game, and bringing in more restrictive regulations. Some would blame this on a rise in populism. Indeed. Looking at this from the highest level, these reforms or restrictions (as the case may be) are attempted for a noble end, to protect the vulnerable in society, particularly children. Still this is something the industry itself could have avoided had it taken a route more grounded in avoiding harm from day one. (To be fair, what industry can be said to have made that aim a bedrock of its orientation?) Triple Bottom Line accounting and investing is still an emergent phenomenon, one which builds into its own value system a responsibility for all its externalities. In the case of the gambling business, the externalities mostly involve human lives and their trajectories, and the value of those outcomes is something which cannot be held too dear.