Bulgaria Braces For Ad Ban

May 2, 2024
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Bulgaria is set to ban most forms of gambling advertising after its parliament unanimously backed a bill to limit marketing.
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Bulgaria is set to ban most forms of gambling advertising after its parliament unanimously backed a bill to limit marketing.

Gambling advertising on television, radio, print media and websites will be completely banned, except for the “Bulgarian Sports Totalizer”, which is state-owned and operates the country’s national lottery.

Operators can still advertise their products on billboards, but these must be placed at least 300 metres from several types of “sensitive” buildings, including schools. Advertising on municipal or state-owned billboards is also prohibited.

Any adverts that are permitted must dedicate at least 10 percent of their ad space to warnings that gambling can lead to addiction, and bonuses can also no longer be promoted.

There is a major carve-out for sports, which have largely avoided the ban.

“Gambling advertising is allowed on equipment, sports facilities, sports halls, stadiums and pools, materials or products of sports federations, clubs, associations and organisations, except on sports equipment, materials or products intended for use by minors,” the Bulgarian parliament said in a press release.

Bulgarian MPs voted 198 in favour of the ban, with no objections or abstentions, and the bill is expected to become law soon once signed by the country’s President.

The approved amendments also raise licence fees from BGN500,000 (€256,000) to BGN750,000 (€383,000) and make a BGN100,000 payment towards responsible gambling measures, half of which will be used by the Ministry of Health to treat gambling addiction.

The bill also places limits on slot halls, which will no longer be permitted in towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants, with exceptions for resort and border regions.

The vote came despite complaints from media groups about threats to their revenue.

Leading broadcaster Nova sent a letter to parliament urging MPs to stop and consider the ramifications of a full ban.

“As we have repeatedly pointed out, commercial electronic media is financed by advertising and by concessions for the distribution of programs. The unexpected and mid-year reduction in advertising revenue will threaten the television's programming schedule, including potentially limiting viewers' access to major sporting events,” the letter said.

The Association of the Gaming Industry in Bulgaria (AGIB) also petitioned parliament to prevent the ban, arguing that self-regulatory measures were already in place to limit bonuses and restrict gambling advertising to daylight hours.

The group also suggested that banning ads would lead players to the black market.

“This restriction will have a favourable effect on foreign companies with registrations outside the territory of the Republic of Bulgaria, to which [gamblers] will be redirected.

“When discussing the issues of gambling harm and socially responsible gaming, advertising is usually placed at the core of this issue,” it said.

Both media organisations and gambling industry groups have complained that the urgency with which the bill was rushed through parliament was not justified.

AGIB said the rapidity had removed the possibility for MPs to properly scrutinise the long-term effects of restricting gambling advertising.

Bulgaria’s parliament has immediately entered recess a day after approving the ad ban, ahead of parliamentary elections on June 9.

The country’s torrid history with gambling regulation has resurfaced in recent weeks after prosecutors revealed the indictment of many of Bulgaria’s former regulators over their alleged associations with infamous ex-lottery operator Vasil Bohzkov.

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