Why Gambling Ad Regulations Matter

Gambling advertising regulations are changing.Source: Unsplash/Glenn Carstens-Peters

Gambling has long been affected by government regulations, and it’s even banned entirely in some places. But recently, even in many countries where gambling on-land or online is legal, gambling advertisements have been restricted with new laws. Online casinos change the way that people interact with casino games, but their operations are likely to be affected by new regulations. Read on to see how different governments are changing the face of the industry.

What’s the logic behind the regulations?

Even in countries where gambling is completely legal, it’s common for there to be regulations on advertising. The situation is similar to how countries have long handled advertising regulations for cigarettes and alcohol. Even in places where they’re legal, the advertising rules have gotten stricter over the years. The United States, for example, hasn’t allowed cigarette advertisements on TV or radio since 1971. Canada followed shortly behind by banning nicotine product ads in 1988.

Many critics of gambling advertisement say that they are concerned about gambling being normalized or over promoted, giving people an inaccurate idea of how many people gamble. They also don’t want advertisements to give people the wrong idea about how gambling could affect their lives, by overstating the benefits with “get rich quick” logic. By reducing the number of advertisements about gambling or censoring their content, the regulations hope to cut back on these types of messages.

Groups that promote cigarette and alcohol advertising bans and regulations have also cited concerns considered about how it’s hard to control who sees advertisements, meaning that corporations could be targeting minors. The same goes for gambling, which is generally age restricted. The regulation is all part of an effort to prevent advertisement to minors, but it also means that companies can’t advertise their offerings to their actual target markets. This could prevent legitimate users from learning about new offerings at their favorite casino.

Are these types of bans effective?

Many people have criticized these types of regulations because they don’t necessarily fulfill their intended purpose. And, there are lots of loopholes in the regulations, which leads some companies to exploit the regulations and break rules anyway, particularly online.

Many studies have even shown that gambling advertising doesn’t necessarily make problem gambling any worse. Irresponsible gambling is more often caused by other factors, and most people don’t consider advertising to blame.

Still, a lot of countries are rethinking their gambling advertisement regulations as part of a larger effort to change gambling regulations overall. Every country has dealt with it in a different way based on their particular situations. Many countries still allow gambling ads to some extent, though their content or airtime is regulated. Their ultimate goal, which is completely valid, is to make sure that the ads are targeted only at adults, and that they don’t give an inaccurate representation of gambling, like exaggerating someone’s chances of winning. However, each government has to consider how best to achieve this.

Censoring certain content in ads

In countries where alcohol advertisements are regulated, they tend to carry a lot of restrictions on what the actual ad content can be. Alcohol advertisements can’t in any way promote underage drinking or unsafe drinking practices, like driving intoxicated or binge drinking. Besides government regulations, many producers actually self-regulate, too, urging customers to consume responsibly. This type of censorship is the same direction many countries have taken with their gambling advertisement regulations.

In any kind of advertisement, companies generally can’t misrepresent their products, and particularly when they’re for a regulated product or service. For example, a vodka ad that claimed drinking a martini made with their product would make you rich and popular would not be allowed in most places. The same goes for gambling advertisements. In general, countries that do allow gambling marketing don’t allow exaggerations around the likelihood of winning, like promising people a new lifestyle bought with their winnings.

That’s the case in Australia, where both online and on-land casinos are regulated. They require that any gambling advertisements encourage responsible gambling, and disallow any marketing that exaggerates the benefits. Advertisements can’t tell people that it’s easy to win at a particular casino or promise exaggerated winnings in an effort to get more customers. Advertisements instead focus on the facts: what games are offered and why they’re fun.

Sweden also has similar regulations against what they call “aggressive advertising practices” that overstate the benefits. This is part of larger regulations about gambling in Sweden, which they have been tightening up recently.

Some countries have special regulations about sports betting ads.Source: Unsplash/Gustavo Ferreira

Other types of ad regulations

Some governments have opted for regulations that ensure ads are aimed only at the target audience. In Australia, this means advertisements are banned in places like trains and buses and near schools, so they’re not targeted at children. In Spain, a new regulation bans television advertisement during the day, only allowing them from 10 at night to 6 in the morning.

Another common gambling regulation has to do which casinos are allowed to operate within their territories. In these countries, they have taken measures to ensure that only legally allowed casinos can advertise within the country. Norway’s Ministry of Culture recently reported that 90% of all betting ads shown on TV there were actually from international gambling sites that weren’t authorized to operate in Norway.

In countries where only certain institutions can operate casinos, there are more regulations, too. In Finland, a state monopoly called Veikkaus controls the entire gambling industry and invests profits from gambling operations in social welfare causes. But, this monopoly means that offshore casinos can’t advertise in Finland at all.

In the United States, where gambling is only legal in certain places, there was a crackdown in ad regulation, too. This was caused by concern that gambling advertisements might lead people to think that gambling was legal in the United States, even in regions where it was not.

In the United Kingdom, some gaming ad regulations have actually been loosened, moving in the other direction of most countries. The UK only allows operators with equipment inside the UK to advertise there, but other than that there are fewer regulations. For example, the ads are allowed on daytime TV in some situations. However, the Advertising Standards Authority does its part to regulate the actual content in the ads, ensuring that ads with the wrong message aren’t allowed to air.

Sports gambling advertising regulations

The United Kingdom also has special regulations regarding sports betting. Sports betting is legal in the UK, and their more lenient advertisement regulations meant that sports events are often filled with sports betting advertisements. During the 2018 World Cup, the Guardian reported that one in six commercials during the tournament were from sports betting companies.

In the wake of criticism, the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling in the UK introduced a voluntary ban on betting ads during sporting events, in an effort to not advertise to minors. Australia has also enacted bans on almost any gambling advertisements during live sports between 5 in the morning and 8:30 at night.

The United States recently legalized sports gambling, too, which has led to new regulations there as well. The American Gaming Association produced guidelines for gambling companies formulating advertisements, saying they wanted to stay ahead of the curve. They banned targeting children by prohibiting cartoon characters and not allowing advertisements in places where the majority of the audience would be minors. The regulations also included warnings about promoting irresponsible behavior or overstating its benefits.

The United States has seen legal action about sports gambling advertisements before. The fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel produced lots of TV ads in 2015, only to be sued by the state of New York for misleading consumers about the chances of winning.

Blanket bans

In some countries, even where gambling is legal, advertising it at all is illegal. Italy recently passed a sweeping ban against gambling advertisement of any kind, anywhere in the country. This means there are no advertisements on TV, radio, print, or even on the internet. It also affects gambling sponsorships for football teams. Italian authorities cited concern over gambling addiction and misleading ads as the reasons behind the ban.

Belgium made a similar move, banning online casinos from advertising in any way. This move has been criticized since it would make it impossible for someone to choose one casino over another, since they’d have very little information. Casinos are able to advertise their games in some situations, but they aren’t allowed to promote gambling and can be fined if they do.

In addition to their existing regulations, Spain may go a step further and actually implement a blanket ban on gambling advertisement, too. This would be for any type of gambling advertisement except their state-run lottery. Sweden is considering similar legislation.

Regulations in Canada

In Canada, most matters of gambling regulations are handled at the province level, with each province deciding what’s legal. Many provinces allow online gambling at Canadian or offshore sites and sports books. However, Canadian law is fairly strict about advertising gambling, even online casinos. They do differentiate between games of chance and games of skill, though, and games of skill with wagers on them can be advertised in some cases.

Advocating responsibility

One of the common goals of regulating gambling advertisements is to prevent underage or illegal gambling. Similarly, there is a focus on advocating responsibility in advertisements. In many countries, the regulations are handled in a way similar to alcohol and tobacco products, citing addiction as a concern.

Regulations like this are meant to prevent casinos from selling gambling as a solution to life’s problems, or otherwise overstating its benefits. Advertisers can’t tell you that you’ll get rich quick or get lucky and win a million dollars. They also can’t encourage reckless or irresponsible gambling practices.

Most casinos try very hard to avoid advocating reckless gambling, because they want to promote fun, responsible gaming instead. That’s why you’ll see responsible gambling resources on most casino sites, which give gamers resources to help them play responsibly. This is similar to how alcohol companies proactively encourage consumers to enjoy their products responsibly, because they don’t want their products to endanger people.

Casinos know that people should think of gambling as entertainment, and do it because it’s fun. They don’t advertise it as a way to make money, or a way to get rich overnight and solve life’s problems. By advocating responsible gambling, casinos both on land and online can make sure that their service is helping people have fun rather than causing problems for them. This type of straightforward advertising will help undo some of the harmful ideas that have been promoted about gambling which promote irresponsible behavior.

Anti-gambling campaigns

Even when gambling is banned or advertisements are regulated, it’s common to see anti-gambling campaigns. Some simply aim to reduce problem gambling, like ads from the UK’s Gamble Aware group. Independent organizations like the National Council of Problem Gambling have run ad campaigns that discourage gambling.

These campaigns are meant to warn people about irresponsible gaming practices, though they often go as far as to say that gambling of any type is bad. However, it is certainly possible to gamble responsibly, and therefore to advertise gambling responsibly. That’s why it’s important for casinos to take responsibility for their own advertising practices, even beyond regulations in some cases. By promoting responsible gambling, casinos can do their part to make problematic gambling less common. This will help people focus on fun gambling practices, and let casinos advertise their new games that people might want to try.

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