Rules around online gambling advertising and why they're getting tighter

13 July 2021
The matter of advertising online gambling has always been a tricky one. On the one hand, a company has the right and the need to advertise their products, but on the other, the potential harms of gambling mean protection is needed for the vulnerable. Operators are regulated by laws but are also party to various codes of conduct and ethical standards. How to advertise your gambling site is not just a legal consideration, but an ethical one as well.
The matter of advertising online gambling has always been a tricky one.

The matter of advertising online gambling has always been a tricky one. (photo by The Blue Diamond Gallery)

There has been momentum towards tougher laws for some time now. But the COVID-19 pandemic that started in Q1 2020 accelerated it. More and more people became interested in gambling due to being on lockdown at home.
With more free time on their hands, gambling saw a big increase in new accounts and revenue. In addition to this, economic downturn, job losses, and other financial impacts led to people being desperate to gain money. Many were worried that online gambling might tempt some to gamble what money they had in the hopes of success.
Due to these issues, many gambling boards initiated tougher restrictions. Some were temporary, but some remain in force even today.
The UK
In June 2020, a group of over 50 Members of the UK parliament authored a report in which they called for a much-needed “shakeup” of British gambling laws. The group of MPs and peers spent over a year gathering evidence, statistics, and testimonies on harmful gambling. The same group which previously campaigned (successfully) for a ban on the use of credit cards to gamble, is now pushing for a total reform of the Gambling Act, including advertising.
Their proposals included a total ban on all gambling adverts both online and on television. They were also in favor of the prohibition of incentives and VIP schemes, both of which are powerful tools for operators. Their reasoning for such drastic measures was the claim that operators have shown they are incapable of self-regulation.
By October of the same year, additional suggestions were made. These included not using celebrities or sports personalities in adverts. They also envisaged changes on rules relating to whether an advert appeals to children. Now, any advert that could be considered appealing to someone under 18 is not allowed.
As of December 2020, the Gambling Act went under formal review. This looked at how all forms of marketing and advertising in the sector impact the population. The call for evidence closed at the end of March, and the results are expected in due course.
It seems likely that the UK is set to tighten its rules on advertising in the gambling sector. The rules are already strict, and operators currently cannot do the following:
  • Suggest that gambling can solve financial problems
  • Link gambling with attraction, sexual success, or seduction
  • Appealing to children, young people, or vulnerable people
  • Condone or encourage gambling that could lead to any kind of harm
  • Be linked to youth culture or exploit their aspirations, inexperience, or lack of knowledge
  • Feature anyone in an advert who is or appears to be under 25
Within the EU
Across the 27 Member States, there is a variation in standards upheld. In Scandinavia, gambling advertising is allowed, but there is a blanket ban on targeting minors. In 2020, the Norwegian parliament amended the Broadcasting Act to restrict gambling adverts on TV. The law came into force as of 1 January 2021.
In Finland, there is a partial ban on advertising, and gambling cannot be featured on TV, radio, or in the cinema. It must also not target children and can only be shown in gambling arcades and casinos. In Iceland, all advertising must be in the native language and make any commercial interest clear. Denmark allows advertising, but adverts can’t contain a direct invitation to gamble or visit any site or establishment.
Scandinavian countries have quite liberal laws on gambling advertising, as do their Baltic neighbors. Latvia has banned gambling advertising anywhere except in a casino (both online and offline). Estonia has a partial ban, and certain promises can’t be made. Operators are allowed to advertise in airports and ports, on their websites, by subscription, and on cruise liners.
But earlier this month, Lithuania moved to ban several forms of gambling advertising. The law will take effect on 1 July. Bonuses, special events, promotions, and various other incentives are also not allowed.
In Germany, online and tv advertising is illegal except for special permission granted to select operators. Czechia and Slovakia have similar levels of legislation, whereas the Netherlands can only show adverts between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.
In Ireland however, there are no specific laws against gambling advertising. Rather they fall under the remit of general protection and advertising standards.
On the other hand, Austria has few limits. Operators must take a “responsible approach”, but this is vaguely defined. There are, however, measures in place to strengthen protection for consumers and to support responsible gambling.
Spain had a rather light-handed touch, but this changed late last year. In November, all gambling adverts on TV and radio were restricted to between 1 am and 5 am. This also includes YouTube and social media. Companies on Facebook and similar can only now share adverts with followers, as opposed to new clients. In Italy, gambling advertising has been banned since 2019.
The government also insisted on “age gating”, the prohibition of bonuses to non-customers, and
North America
The legality of online gambling in the US is a complex matter. Managed at a state level, it varies significantly from state to state. In terms of advertising, while other countries are moving towards limiting it, the US seems far from considering it. Various groups have advocated for operators to be proactive in their approach to self-regulation. They encourage adhering to best practices and standards set by other countries. If they don’t, they could risk ending up with tough legal restrictions similar to those in Europe.
One Senate bill has already been put forward by Senator Tom Cotton. It’s called the “Prevention of Deceptive or Child-Targeted Advertising in Violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.”
Some lawyers have said that banning gambling advertising in the US would be hard due to the First Amendment Law, which protects commercial speech.
So what do operators have to do?
The first thing to do is to make sure you comply with your licensing requirements. Your corporate service provider can help you with this and ensure you are meeting your obligations. They can also assist with meeting any other legal requirements related to the jurisdiction you’re licensed in. Then, it’s up to you if you want to take heed of codes of conduct or ethical guidelines as well. But before launching your site, you must take professional advice. Failure to comply can result in big fines, penalties, and license revocation. In these cases, you may struggle to work in the sector again in any other jurisdiction.
It always pays to be ethical as in all cases, the benefits of non-compliance do not outweigh the penalties!

Ron Mendelson

Ron Mendelson is the Director of Costa-Rica based business and financial consultancy firm, Fast Offshore. With over two decades of experience in corporate services, iGaming, international business, finance, licensing and legal matters, he advises a number of international clients on their business needs in the Americas, Europe, and beyond.