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With regulatory fines on the rise amid a public backlash, Sonja Lindenberg wonders what the future holds for the iGaming industry’s advertising practices.

In recent weeks, the regulation, or rather restriction, of gambling advertisements has been a point of much discussion and has been prominently featured in mainstream media.

Looking back, we can draw parallels between the tobacco advertising era and today’s situation with gambling advertising.

Intensive lobbying

In the heydays of tobacco advertising, cigarette companies sponsored game shows and cartoons, and ads featured endorsements from doctors, dentists, and celebrities.

The “Marlboro Man” made smoking cool and sexy, and Camel cigarettes ran countless campaigns with “Joe Camel”, a toy mascot that studies later found was just as familiar to six-year-olds as Mickey Mouse.

Big tobacco was also seen as the gold standard for special-interest lobbying with its effective political campaigns and lobbyists.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the lobby called into question each medical and scientific finding regarding the health risks of tobacco.

However, as the health risks of smoking became more visible, big tobacco’s lobbying power dwindled, and smoking ads were eventually banned in many countries.

Similarly, gambling companies, like tobacco companies before them, proclaim their efforts at self-regulation by providing embedded warnings to “gamble responsibly.”

However, unlike Big Tobacco, which invested billions in lobbying efforts and fought against advertising bans for decades (incidentally, none of the WHO countries have banned all forms of tobacco advertising and sponsorship), the gambling industry seems to be realising that the tide is turning against the saturation of gambling advertising, particularly in sports.

Recent moves by Entain and Tabcorp in Australia to limit gambling advertising due to growing opposition from the public suggest that the industry is now taking steps to address this issue.

However, it’s not just Australia where this conversation is happening – similar discussions are taking place in other countries.

The trend is clear

It’s needless to enumerate the situation in every country regarding advertising policies.

The trend in recent times has become quite evident. So what can the industry do?

If there is still something to be won and policy action can be halted, the industry should prioritise alignment over individual company agendas.

Major and minor operators should work together to find common ground and present a unified message.

The iGaming industry is still relatively young, and immature industries like this often attract people focused on quick returns who don’t put much effort into building up the industry’s reputation and credibility.

This is evidenced by the long list of fines that regulators have recently imposed for illegal advertising. However, cohesive action is now needed more than ever before.

Moreover, by providing alternative solutions to poor policies and agreeing to beneficial policy recommendations, the industry can avoid unnecessary interference and strengthen its credibility on important issues.

For instance, instead of opposing constraints on advertising bonuses and promotions, the industry can propose increased transparency and less fine print in these promotions.

This kind of collaboration with regulators could help find a compromise that allows for limited advertising while still protecting consumers and promoting responsible gambling.

Forced to innovate

Perhaps we have already reached the point of no return where the bad practices of some have made it impossible for regulators not to take action.

With advertising bans looming, online gambling companies are being forced to consider new ways to attract customers and remain profitable.

This could include a greater emphasis on customer loyalty and retention, as well as improving the user experience of their platforms.

Besides, if marketing spend was curtailed, imagine how much cash would suddenly become available for product innovation, which is something the industry has struggled with for years.