Spain’s Counsel of Ministers has approved a new set of advertising regulations for gambling operators in the country. The latest decree is aimed at private companies working in the gaming industry and it severely limits their ability to market their products and services.
Advertising guidelines in Spain are already very strict as it is but these recent changes are likely to have a significant impact on the bottom line of the regulated operators while simultaneously creating an opening for unlicensed sites.
Namely, new rules stipulate that gambling sites are only allowed to advertise their services during late night hours, between 1am and 5am. Furthermore, they are no longer allowed to enter sponsorship deals with sports organizations.
State Monopoly under the Guise of Care for the Players?
On the face of it, new measures have been introduced to protect the most vulnerable, i.e. those with gambling issues. However, the evidence suggests that there may be a different motivation for the latest restrictions.
First of all, Spain is one of the countries with the lowest percentage of problem gamblers. Studies suggest that of all gamblers, only 0.3% belongs to the risk group, which is way below the global average that stands at around 4% – 5%.
Secondly, new rules don’t apply equally to all operators.
While private companies are forced to adhere to very stringent rules, state-run lotteries seem to be exempt from them. They continue to run their advertisements during all hours, use suggestive language, and sponsor sports.
If the government is truly set on protecting players, it’s strange that lotteries are given so much freedom, given that their adverts account for about 34% of the overall marketing expenditure in the country. On top of that, state-run lotteries account for 65% of the overall gambling revenue, much more than online poker in Spain and other gambling activities combined.
Shaping Players’ Opinion
The government may be claiming that their only concern is for the players but things don’t quite add up. The EGBA has issued the warning that these new rules are in violation of the EU laws and are discriminatory towards private companies.
Jdigital, an association that brings together a large percentage of all gaming operators in the country, has echoed this sentiment, also emphasizing that this is a manipulative move that aims to try and shape the players’ view.
It is as if the government is trying to say that there is “good gambling” and “bad gambling”, with lotteries clearly being the former.
Jdigital is also warning that these measures could easily backfire and actually hurt the very segment the government is claiming they want to protect. With regulated operators so severely restricted, doors will be wide open for unlicensed sites to come in and make a tidy profit.
All the currently existing evidence suggests that new regulations are exaggerated and uncalled for. With such a low percentage of pathological gamblers, the Spanish government seems to be using an invalid argument to create an even more favorable environment for state lotteries that bring in billions to the state coffers every year.
While additional measures to protect the most vulnerable players have been introduced by regulators all over Europe, there is a distinct feeling that consumers weren’t in the focus of the latest decree on advertising.
The preferential treatment given to state-owned gambling operations suggests that the idea isn’t to protect the players but rather shift their interest towards specific forms of gambling (i.e. lotteries) using regulations that contradict the ideas of free market and fair competition.