Ever since the UK Government announced its long-awaited review of the Gambling Act 2005 back in December 2020, the industry has been waiting with bated breath on the outcome.
In the meantime, the pandemic has dragged on much longer than anticipated and a cabinet reshuffle has left the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport looking markedly different to how it did when the review began.
All this has led to much speculation about what the industry should expect, with predictions oscillating from the impact being moderate to it being disastrous.
As publication of the hotly anticipated white paper finally draws near, Imogen Moss, a solicitor at Poppleston Allen, as well as a gambling industry and regulatory expert, gives her view on what could be on the cards.
Many expect the Gambling Act review to result in at least some further restrictions on gambling advertising. What do you think is the most likely result on this front?
I think it’s highly unlikely that the government will retain the status quo. While a total ban on gambling-related advertising is doubtful, I expect the government is looking carefully at sports sponsorship. Careful consideration needs to be given to grassroots football as there are large gambling groups that provide help with funding, which is of huge importance to the game.
There are many types of gambling advertising and a blanket approach by the UK Government would seem out of balance with the issues that they have highlighted.Imogen Moss
There has been commentary about the prospect of introducing a gambling levy in order to fund grassroots football, but this has been met with a lot of criticism, with some suggesting this would make the link between gambling and football too close, and others arguing that gambling companies already provide significant revenue to the game.
Protecting children from harm is a prime point of focus but reducing children’s exposure to gambling is going to be something of a work in progress because technology is always changing and there are different approaches needed by different areas of the gambling industry, both online and land based.
It’s worth pointing out there are already strict rules about advertising in relation to children, so marketing materials can’t be of particular appeal to children or young people, nor can the advertisements target children or young people — operators can’t use certain colours or cartoons, for example.
I would be surprised if the review goes as far as Italy or Spain. Looking at Italy, for example, the Italian FA has written to the Italian Government asking for gambling advertising to be made legal again because clubs need funds to help them recover from the effects of the pandemic, so that is something that will be in people’s minds.
There are many types of gambling advertising and a blanket approach by the UK Government would seem out of balance with the issues that they have highlighted. Also, any decisions made would need to have their foundations in robust evidence.
Speaking of Italy and Spain, do you think UK operators are taking lessons from these countries in terms of preparing?
There has been so much speculation and the white paper has been so long coming that, while clients are preparing themselves for changes, it is hard to prepare when you don’t know exactly what the changes are going to be. However, they will have their eyes on what has happened on the continent and be looking at what operators have done to mitigate the impact.
For example, in Italy, permitted activity is restricted to informative communications so a lot of operators have been using blogs as an alternative way for people to access information instead of the usual advertising. I think operators here have taken note of that.
What about leveraging their land-based operations? In Italy those operators with strong shop networks seem to have fared better since the Dignity Decree came in than those without.
Should there be any significant advertising restrictions brought in, I think the online industry in the UK will certainly see a bigger impact than the land-based industry, but it’s difficult to predict from looking at numbers from Italy and Spain because most of the data sets are from the pandemic period.
In any case, it’s unlikely UK operators will be able to leverage their land-based operations to advertise their online operations to the same extent Italian operators have because the cultures are very different. Depending on any new rules that may come into force, UK operators could look to advertise their online offerings in their land-based stores, but these customers may not fit the same demographic they were previously targeting online.