International gambling specialist Massimiliano Riverso has been working in digital marketing and communication for more than ten years. He is the founder of Tetogo Srl and Riverso Advertising SL, leading outreach agencies in Italy, Spain and South America.
Regulatory headwinds are an occupational hazard for betting businesses in established gambling markets.
However, whilst operators in countries like the UK prepare for possible new restrictions on sports sponsorships, the experiences of proactive betting companies in Italy and Spain offer lessons in how to connect with punters when the legislators are trying to pull down the shutters.
As acknowledged by Massimiliano Riverso, CEO of Riverso Advertising, a digital agency focused on the Spanish and Italian markets, the initial reaction from operators to strict new legislation activated in the two countries over the past three years was understandably defensive, with marketing spend stripped back.
In Italy, the Decreto Dignità – or ‘Dignity Decree’, which was unveiled in 2018 – effectively banned any form of gambling advertising, sponsorship or communication.
Meanwhile, in late 2020, the so-called Garzon Law – officially the Commercial Communications of Gambling Activities legislation – outlawed sponsorship deals for betting companies and restricted gambling-related television and radio advertisements to between 1am and 5am.
However, creative new omnichannel strategies have emerged from the turbulence.
“After an initial decrease in investments, justified by uncertainties in the interpretation of decree laws, all gaming operators have increased their budgets for the application of omnichannel marketing campaigns,” Riverso says.
“More precisely, budgets that were destined for TV and social media were distributed to other channels, such as PR, events and SEO. At the same time, the best affiliate sites are playing a pivotal role in giving visibility to brands in the Italian and Spanish markets.”
At the heart of the new approach adopted by operators in Italy and Spain is the publication of affiliate websites that comply with the law.
For example, In Italy – the more stringent anti-gambling marketing environment out of the two countries – websites that fall under the narrowly permitted remit of ‘informative communications’ can educate potential punters whilst not offering an explicit betting call to action.
“The best brands have created information channels on their platforms – specifically, blog sections – to offer users alternative channels instead of the classic online games offer,” Riverso explains.
“This type of content allowed operators to implement marketing strategies of a purely informative nature and, at the same time, to gain visibility during major sporting events and in television commercials.”
Meanwhile, in Spain, broadcasters – many of whom rely on advertising income – adapted their schedules so that sports programming could be aired in the early hours of the morning, enabling relevant betting advertising to be shown in compliance with the law.
Riverso also feels that the introduction of strict laws has driven operators to reflect on “communication mistakes made by the big gambling brands”, especially with regards to the promotion of responsible gambling behaviour.
“Many advertising campaigns focused exclusively on encouraging gambling, without considering the risks of gambling addiction,” Riverso says.
“As we have always stressed on our information channels, it is necessary to spread a culture of safe and responsible gaming. At the same time, modern technologies, such as artificial intelligence, can be exploited to monitor user behavior and send personalised messages to users to avoid overspending on a daily basis.
“The big brands are aligning themselves with this new philosophy, which represents the future of the whole industry.”
He adds that the launch of new marketing strategies and communication channels has simultaneously ushered in a new, more responsible tone that will benefit customers and betting companies in the long run.
Focusing on Italy, where operators have had longer to adapt to the restrictions on advertising, sponsorships and promotions, Riverso explains: “Overall, all gaming operators in the Italian market have launched social responsibility campaigns on all B2B sites, showing their commitment to responsible gaming and player protection.
“Over the past three years, all major brands have worked together to support the gambling industry, achieving great results although the limitations of exposure in the media.”
Riverso argues that laws designed to clamp down on the prevalence of betting and gaming companies can have unintended consequences for the legislators.
For example, by driving the brands out of public view, the public themselves are less likely to recognise which operators are licensed and offer certain protections, bringing about the possibility of increased levels of illegal gambling.
However, for proactive and licensed operators in the space, the challenge of finding new channels of communication has actually translated into a more comprehensive and cohesive collective approach, underpinned by greater diversification.
“For several months, the major Spanish operators have been applying diversified marketing strategies to compensate for visibility limitations during daytime hours,” Riverso explains. “These strategies are similar to those adopted in the Italian market.”
The marketing journeys experienced by operators in Spain and Italy have led to more durable strategies that engage punters in ways that were never previously explored. For operators in other markets where the regulatory outlook is uncertain, such an approach can uncover untapped opportunities that have the potential to drive long-term growth, rather than mere survival.