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Protests over Italian ad ban will fall on deaf ears

| By Joanne Christie | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The unpredictability of populist politicians has been brought into sharp focus in Italy, where the gambling sector is reeling from the shock advertising ban. Scott Longley reports

The essential unpredictability of populist politicians has been brought into sharp focus for the gambling sector in Italy, which has found itself the target of measures designed to severely limit how betting and gaming operators reach their target audience. Scott Longley reports.

The move in Italy, instituted by the new Lega Nord/Five Star coalition, against gambling advertising has thrown the Italian gambling industry into turmoil.

According to some interpretations, the “absolute ban” on all forms of gaming-related advertising announced by Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio in late June has the potential to turn the market on its head.

We shouldn’t, however, be surprised. The issue of the prevalence of gambling advertising has erupted in another licensed European jurisdiction and the arguments being aired have a familiar ring to them.

As in the UK, advertising breaks during televised football matches dominated by free bet offers and half-time imprecations to bet on an ongoing match have raised the ire of those unwilling to be seduced.

Operators within regulated jurisdictions obviously welcome with open arms the opportunity to advertise more freely. Yet in doing so, many of those taking to the airwaves would appear to fail to take into account the truth of one of the basic laws of Newtonian physics: for every action, there is a reaction.

In this instance, the more that gambling operators advertise their wares, the more they dredge up anti-gambling feelings among certain portions of the viewing audience. In particular, in seeking a carve-out for adverts around sporting events outside of the hours of the watershed, the gambling sector and its broadcast partners have ignited fears about the exposure of gambling to children.

This revulsion on the part of a significant minority has already translated into revolt as anti-gambling campaigners and politicians have seized their chance.

It’s no surprise, for instance, that the Campaign for Fairer Gambling’s Matt Zarb-Cousin should have popped up on BBC Radio 4 in late June talking about the “totally inappropriate” viewing by children of gambling ads in the early stages of the World Cup.

A ship called dignity
Similarly, in Italy, it should be noted that the new proposed legislation against gambling goes under the moniker the Dignity Decree. You would have to have a tin ear not to recognise this particular melody.

We know where this one is heading. As it stands, the salient arguments being made by industry advocates about a blanket ban only benefiting unlicensed operators appears to be (at least at the time of going to press) getting scant recognition.

Warnings such as the one we have seen from LeoVegas that the move is “dangerous” appear as likely to succeed as the calls by the UK bookies in the UK for the government to maintain “an evidence-based policy” with regard to machines.

The hope in Italy is, in the words of one gambling executive, that the legislation “is never as clear as it first seems”, and certainly, the affiliate sector might yet hope that fears with regard to online marketing being included in the measures might be misplaced.

That is particularly true of Catena Media, which just before the news of the Dignity Decree came out announced the €16m buyout of Italian sports-betting affiliate ASAP Italia.

Henrik Persson Ekdahl, partner and co-founder at Catena Media shareholder Optimizer Invest, says that Catena had been speaking to the Italian authorities and it was the firm’s understanding that the moves were very much aimed at TV advertising. “They are not targeting affiliates,” he says.

This may or may not prove to be a misplaced confidence but, should it only be a TV ban, then as one industry executive pointed out, for many of the leading Italian brands their land-based presence provides a welcome backstop.

SNAI (now under Playtech ownership), SKS365 (Planetwin365 brand) and Eurobet are all well-placed in terms of outlets and market share to maintain their marketing via the high street.

In the UK, meanwhile, similar actions to limit gambling ads on TV might – arguably ironically –end up benefiting most those that have been hit by the £2 maximum stake, namely the big high-street chains.

It might not come as much relief just yet for bookies left reeling by their FOBT rout but it does at least point to there being life yet in retail, particularly if it maintains or even increases its importance as an acquisition channel.

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