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The UK’s largest pay-TV broadcaster, Sky, has decided to limit gambling advertising to one spot per commercial break. The limits will come into force at the beginning of the soccer season next August.
Steven van Rooyen, chief executive of Sky’s UK business, said:
“Our customers are worried about gambling ads on TV – and we understand their concerns. That’s why we’ve committed to limiting the amount of gambling ads on Sky and better protecting those vulnerable to problem gambling.”
Sky is the pre-eminent broadcaster of soccer in the UK and one of the most popular sources for TV sports.
It makes a lot of money from gambling advertising, mainly from sports betting operators.
The UK Daily Telegraph estimates Sky makes around £200 million ($262 million) a year from its gambling advertising. The self-imposed limitation will cost it tens of millions in lost revenue.
Sky actually auctions its peak advertising slots. That means although there will be less gambling advertising, the price of each slot could go up. This will reduce its lost revenues, but not eliminate them entirely.
Sky comes into its viewers’ houses through a set-top box. From 2020, users will be able to adjust the settings on their boxes to block all gambling adverts. Sky will replace them with adverts from other sponsors.
In August this year, Italy passed new legislation to ban all gambling advertising. Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said:
“After decades, we have the first decree that was not written by economic lobbyists and vested interests. Today Italy sets a record in Europe: The first country to have abolished gambling advertising.”
The new law has been condemned by the gaming industry, and is widely seen as encouraging the black market. In the absence of legal advertising, it will be difficult for regulated sports betting operators to differentiate themselves from unlicensed operators.
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and the government have not proposed any similar legislation for Britain. But there have been calls for more restrictions, including from the gambling industry.
GVC CEO Kenny Alexander, whose company owns the UK’s Ladbrokes brand, has demanded a ban on gambling advertising before 9 p.m. GVC also owns partypoker and has struck a joint venture deal with MGM Resorts for expanding sports betting in the US.
Alexander said that the industry should police itself:
“Most people in the gambling industry think there are far too many ads. We should make the changes collaboratively with the rest of the industry, which might be difficult, and ultimately it’s up to the government to decide if it wants to legislate or not.”
Sky’s decision fits right in with this attitude. Both in terms of corporate social responsibility and as a means of heading off potential legislation, it makes business sense.
Back in 2013, the then-chairman of the UKGC, Philip Graf, chastised the gambling industry for not taking responsibility ($) for the poor image of gambling.
He argued for a regulatory philosophy of the “minimum required to ensure players are protected from exploitation and harm.” But he could not deliver on that goal unless the gaming industry helped change public perception.
Graf said the industry has “yet to convince the public that they recognise that the entertainment they provide has real risks.”
“Securing public confidence is surely a more cost effective way to obtain agreement to sensible changes in regulation, rather than building up a regulatory environment (some might say empire) to provide inspection reports.”
It is fascinating that an online gaming boss like Kenny Alexander has so fully taken onboard Graf’s admonitions. He has been ahead of the curve all the way in building GVC up from tiny beginnings to the industry giant it now is.
US sports betting is in the process of expansion. In state hearings, gambling opponents trot out similar messages that always include the dangers to children.
As Graf said, the best way for the gambling industry to gain acceptance is to create public perception that it is part of the solution. Responsible advertising could be a key element of this.