Let’s wake up, before gambling is treated like tobaccoBy Valérie Peano, Attorney-at-Law, EGLA – European Gambling Lawyers & AdvisorsFebruary 20, 2019 at 2:45 amLegal provisions adopted in Italy concerning gambling are quite worrying.Currently, the Italian Senate is debating another increase of the fiscal levy rate for video lotteries (VLT) and amusement with prizes (AWP) machines (low stakes, low prizes). Under the current government, these gaming machines already had two tax increases: one in July 2018, with the ‘Dignity Decree’, in order to compensate for the loss of revenues expected because of the ban on gambling advertising and sponsorships; and a second one, in December, with the Budget Law for 2019.During last year, most of the local municipalities and regions in Italy passed regulations requiring gambling venues to be a certain distance away from “sensitive” locations such as schools, churches and hospitals, with the distances differing from one municipality to another.In July 2018, the ‘Dignity Decree’ provided for a blanket ban on gambling advertising, with the alleged aim to strengthen consumer protection and to introduce more effective means to combat gambling addiction. The ban is extremely broad, excepting only local raffles and the national lottery, which is offered once a year. The ban covers any gambling that is advertised, directly or indirectly, in whatever form and through any channel, including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboard, digital and social media channels. Incredibly, the ban was immediately implemented by major social media providers.The Dignity Decree also provided for a blanket ban on gambling sponsorship of all events, activities, initiatives, programs, products, and service. It bans the overlay of gambling companies’ tradenames, trademarks, logos, signs or products.The same decree imposed, starting 1 January 2019, a new warning on scratch-cards: “This game damages health”. That warning must appear on both sides of scratch-cards, and must take up at least 20% of the size of the card. That warning is additional to warnings about minors being prohibited from playing, the risk of gambling addiction, and the need to gamble responsibly.Last but not least, the decree imposed the mandatory use of health ID cards and a matching upgrade of slot machine equipment and software.This long series of restrictive regulations adopted by the Italian government shows not only a negative attitude against lotteries and gambling products, but also a clear intent to treat gambling similar to tobacco.Gambling operators should not underestimate the risk of a domino effect of this highly restrictive trend among other European states. The United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, and Denmark – to mention a few states – have been or are currently introducing stricter rules on gambling, notably on gambling advertising.So, what’s next? Shall we expect plain-warning packaging for scratch-cards? Or points of sales to be obliged to hide lotteries tickets and scratch cards displays, to show these products only upon customer request?A proactive approach is necessary. What has happened in Italy should serve as warning to the gambling industry that it needs to improve itself.Tobacco and gambling are very different. The ban on tobacco advertising is based on much research that proved that smoking even a single cigarette was harmful. A moderate amount of betting or playing the lottery has never been shown to be a harm to health. But are politicians or society fully aware of that? Apparently not.Gambling operators should solicit independent research to evaluate the level of risk of gambling products. In October 2018, Italy’s first epidemiological gambling survey, conducted by the National Health Institute (ISS) in partnership with the gambling regulator ADM, found that 3 percent of the population were “problem” players and only 19 percent of players who watched gambling advertising said it motivated them to gamble.Based on independent research, gambling operators should address the concerns of institutions, politicians, society and players, to enhance the amount and quality of information. Operators should be suggesting a moderate level of play for their products. At the same time, operators should work on getting better recognition and acceptance of gambling products.Such proactivity is of utmost importance in order to start a solid and robust confrontation that apparently has not happened so far.