1. In recent years, lawmakers and regulators throughout the EU are increasingly worrying about the negative side effects of (especially, but not exclusively, online) gambling. Research showed that a significant number of EU citizens – in particular young people – had become more or less addicted to such practices and were founding themselves suffering both, from a health perspective as well as far as their economic wellbeing is concerned.
2. Therefore, the EU Commission felt that compulsive gambling and the risks of gambling addiction deserved special attention and issued, to the purpose, Recommendation n. 478 of July 14, 2014, containing "principles for the protection of consumers and players of online gambling services and for the prevention of minors from gambling online".
The Recommendation provides for:
- Detailed information requirements for entities operating gambling sites,
- Means to prevent minors from accessing (and participating in) gambling platforms,
- Identification requirements for players active on such platforms,
- Player support systems, such as: monetary deposit and temporal limits, periodic alerts about wins and losses and playing time, helplines, a credit ban for operators and their obligation to keep records of players' deposits and winnings, policies and procedures to facilitate interaction with players, whenever their behavior indicates a risk of a gambling disorder,
- Operators' obligation to offer players a system to activate, at any moment, time out or self-exclusion from a specific service or from all online gambling services,
- Transparency requirements and specific bans for all commercial communication relating to such services as well as sponsorship limitations,
- A call on Member States to come up – where appropriate in cooperation with consumer protection organizations and the associations of gambling site operators - with educational and public awareness-raising campaigns, meant to inform consumers and vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly people and minors) about the risks deriving from compulsive gambling or addiction to it,
- An invitation to Member States to designate specific supervising authorities, in charge of ensuring effective compliance with the principles mentioned above.
3. The Italian House has followed up on such Recommendation through Law no. 208 of December 28, 2015, which sets the general criteria and principles for preventing the performance of illegal gambling and betting, on one hand, and for reducing the negative effects of compulsive or excessive gambling, on the other hand.
These general principles and criteria also result in restrictions or bans for advertising of gambling services. Such advertising is banned, between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm, when promoting games with money prizes on mainstream TV or Radio programs. The ban does not cover 'specialized media', benefitting from a specific exemption and indirect promotion – i.e. through sponsorship – in areas such as: culture, scientific research, sports, health care and welfare.
Total bans are set for advertising:
- Encouraging excessive or uncontrolled gambling,
- Denying the risks related to gambling,
- Omitting to inform about the terms and conditions for being able to benefit from incentives or bonuses,
- Suggesting that gambling is a mean to resolve personal or financial problems or is a suitable alternative for a regular job, instead of being just an entertainment,
- Conveying the impression that a player's experience and skills are capable of reducing the uncertainty of a win, allowing, instead, to achieve systematic wins,
- Directed to minors, or presenting them while engaged in gambling,
- Making use of signs, drawings, characters or persons primarily related to minors and therefore capable of attracting special interest among them,
- Suggesting that gambling favors self-esteem and increases individual and social success,
- Presenting individuals restraining from gambling in a negative light,
- Confusing the ease of a game with the probabilities of a win,
- Conveying incorrect information about the odds of winning or the results players can obtain when playing,
- Promoting consumer credit services to be used for playing.
Infringement is sanctioned by a fine varying from Euro 100.000 up to Euro 500.000, which will be applied both, to the infringing advertiser as well as to the media company involved in the diffusion of advertising incompliant with the restrictions indicated above.
4. Decree no. of July 16, 2016, issued jointly by the State Departments for Finances and for Economic Development, operates some 'fine tuning' with respect to the provisions of Law n. 208 of 2015.
It individuates specifically all media to be considered as
'mainstream' (the digital terrestrial channels) and those
to be held as 'specialized' ('themed' channels,
i.e. with programs primarily dedicated to children and minors of
age, music, culture, information, sports, TV sales or broadcasting
on demand or pay per view content).
It also clarifies that Radio or TV channels broadcasting programs exclusively - or predominantly - targeted to an audience of minors may not be considered as 'specialized media', therefore resulting unable to benefit from the exemptions applying to such media as to the advertising bans mentioned in Section 3. above.
5. Given the rapidly increasing problem of 'vulnerable groups of individuals' (e.g. minors of age or elderly people) exposed to the - truly detrimental - effects of excessive gambling, close scrutiny and firm enforcement action from regulatory authorities is likely to occur in the near future.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.