All forms of marketing, including free bets, would be banned under the Gambling Regulation Bill that was published by the Irish government. The bill does not specify what type of promotional activity would be banned. According to Regulus Partners, an inducement is a thing that convinces someone to do something. It said that the definition is dangerously broad for the context of the bill.
It would be hard to beat the job title “gambling lobbyist” if you were to come up with one.
Lobbyist is a title that conjures up images of a professional bribe-giving, often on behalf of unpopular industries, and we all know the kind of reputation the gambling sector has.
Last month’s article in the New York Times on the subject highlighted the fact that lawmakers are going to be scrutinized for any interaction they have with gambling lobbyists.
In the weeks since it was published, a lot has been said about that piece, so I won’t dwell on that.
There are recent developments in Ireland that show what can happen if a bill lacks industry input.
The ban on inducements in Ireland
The Gambling Regulation Bill was published this week by the Irish government. The fact that the bill would take a strict approach to marketing was already known.
The text that was published appeared to create a chaotically unclear situation for operators and for Ireland’s new regulator to enforce.
The bill simply prohibits all “inducements”, rather than defining what type of promotional activity would be banned.
The language in the bill was noted by many observers, including Regulus Partners.
It is assumed that the dictionary definition is adequate for legal interpretation when words are not defined specifically in a legal context. The Gambling Regulation Bill states that an inducement is something that persuades or leads someone to do something.
This definition is dangerously broad for the context of the bill.
Virtually all forms of marketing would be banned if taken literally.
It doesn’t appear that this provision should be taken literally. There are other references to advertising in the bill that wouldn’t make sense in a situation where it was banned completely.
Where is the line between advertising and inducements? The bill doesn’t seem to be interested in answering that question.
If there had been more work done with the industry on the details, it wouldn’t have happened. Any gambling marketing officer could quickly list off promotional campaigns that fall into an ambiguous black hole under its current wording, and ask for more clarity on whether they would be permitted.
Operators trying to avoid falling afoul of the rules have something on the line. Penalties, but potentially criminal proceedings and prison sentences for executives involved.
There are other issues elsewhere
Ireland has not been the first country to have this type of issue. A ban on inducements written in broad language has been brought in by Lithuania.
The country’s regulators quickly explained that this was not a ban on all marketing, but a ban on sending terms and conditions emails and promoting games on their homepages.
Poorly defined bans on inducements have been a problem for Australia.
An attempt to bring in a completely unclear standard for “special moderation” in gambling marketing was sensibly rejected by a Swedish legislative committee.
The Netherlands has a ban on gambling ads that are not targeted.
It’s pretty popular to restrict gambling marketing in most markets. For non-gamblers, their main interaction is with the sector. It certainly doesn’t help that so many gambling ads are annoying.
The public isn’t going to think through all of the specifics. In a representative democracy, lawmakers can listen to those views and work with experts who understand the field in order to deliver a workable version of what the voters are asking for.
It can be crucial that expert input is provided.
For all of the associations with the wordlobbyist, the job exists for a reason. Stakeholders can provide their expertise and explain what will work and what will not.
While a body like the UK’s Betting and Gaming Council has taken a mostly confrontational approach, industry associations can be at their strongest when they try to educate decision-makers.
Gambling lobbyists are not likely to be beloved. They have to be paid attention to.