Controversy and Uncertainty Surround Italy's Gambling Ad Ban

Aug 05

Italian politics seems to be in a never-ending state of upheaval, and the latest issues have caused uncertainty regarding the future of the country’s recently-implemented gambling ad prohibition.

It was sometime last year when an advertising ban that affects the gambling industry was first discussed. And in April of this year, Italy’s advertising and communications regulator, AGCOM, finally revealed exactly how they plan to implement the ban on gambling advertising.

AGCOM confirmed that promotional communications, direct and indirect advertising, and sponsorships involving gambling brands will all be banned under the new regulations. The band also includes product placements and the distribution of branded items by any gambling brand.

The ban was put in place to reduce gambling addiction rates in the country and ramp up efforts to protect players, especially vulnerable groups like the elderly, minors, and problem gamblers. In connection with the implementation of the ban, AGCOM has assured gambling operators that they will not be left completely without any means to communicate with their target audience. Informative communications such as sporting odds, available bonuses, and minimum bet sizes, for example, do not fall within the scope of the ban.

Controversy arose, however, when AGCOM itself raised concerns regarding the ad ban’s legality in a report submitted to the Italian government towards the end of July. The report came after the one-year transitional period provided by the decree that introduced the ban expired on July 14th. AGCOM is now saying that a full ban is both unnecessary and unlawful, the sanctions associated with the ban are disproportionate and contradictory, the ban will be ineffective, and the ban will cause a substantial loss to the sports and media industries.

Following this report, leaders of Italy’s governing coalition parties are now threatening to replace the media regulator. Gaming Undersecretary Alessio Villarosa even announced that he has prepared a ministerial circular increasing the restrictions to include “simple general information” in the list of prohibited actions.

Asked to comment on the ban and its accompanying uncertainty, the country’s gambling operators were cautious in what they had to say. Gaming attorney Stefano Sbordoni simply said the ban was “a work in progress” and suggested further clarification on some of the points of the restrictions.

For his part, LeoVegas CEO Niklas Lindahl said the Dignity Decree that introduced the ban has the potential of “being a time bomb not only for gambling, but also for communication, sports, journalism, and the Italian economy.” Lindahl also expressed his hopes that the government will reconsider some of the more restrictive measures, as he believes these measures will only cause locally-licensed operators to cede their market shares to internationally-licensed operators. The company has filed a legal challenge of the decree at the European Commission.

At present, no one knows exactly what the next step of the Italian government will be. Things have become even more uncertain after deputy premier Matteo Salvini filed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. There likely won’t be any significant update on the ad ban until the upheaval in government itself reaches a conclusion of sorts.