In Spain, A War of Words Over Advertising Restrictions

May 22, 2023
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A war of words erupted at a recent industry conference, as industry representatives sparred with Spain's head gambling regulator over claims that the recent advertising royal decree constituted a full ban and demands for industry consultation on future decrees.

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A war of words erupted at a recent industry conference, as industry representatives sparred with Spain's head gambling regulator over claims that the recent advertising royal decree constituted a full ban and demands for industry consultation on future decrees.

The spat took place at the Gaming in Spain Conference on Thursday (May 18) and saw the head of the General Directorate of Gaming Regulation (DGOJ) clash with the industry over the recent tightening of Spanish gambling regulations.

Jorge Hinojosa, head of trade group Jdigital, took to the stage to open the conference in Madrid on Thursday morning. He echoed frustration that has been voiced by the industry since Royal Decree 958/2020 was first published.

The decree banned advertising on television, radio and video exchange platforms except for between the hours of 1am and 5am, among other restrictions.

“The Royal Decree on Advertising has slowed down the growth of the gambling industry in Spain,” Hinojosa said. He cited a report that showed that in 2022 new accounts fell by 47 percent compared with 2021.

“Why? Why do we need to convince the associations that it is a perfectly legal activity, that gambling is a highly regulated activity, that gambling is a safe activity?” asked Hinojosa.

“Why do we have to convince, not only the senior association but also the regulator, that the industry doesn’t want to generate gambling addicts? Honestly, I don’t know why.”

Mikel Arana, the head of the DGOJ, fired back that the reason was over-advertising during the pandemic. He claimed that during lockdowns advertising was ubiquitous and insufferable.

“All the time, they were in our houses and on the television,” he said.

Arana added that a small percentage of people gamble online or offline, but that the publicity affected everyone.

“It got to the point where I think people got quite annoyed by the type of publicity and we understood that [previous] revisions didn’t work and that’s why we decided to approve our decree.”

Arana also denied the figures Hinojosa presented. “Contrary to what Jorge said before, what we see is that the number of players increases and what we see is the GGR (gross gambling revenue) increases.”

Arana also repeatedly corrected other speakers who referred to the restrictions as an advertising ban.

Peter Marcus, group operations director at Entain, said to Arana: "The only way to get more bites of business, and more people spending less money — which I think you want — is to market your product to those people. And I think that's the dichotomy we're always in with the advertising ban."

He said that the players who remain are high-rollers, which is not necessarily attractive to the industry.

Santiago Asensi, a gaming expert and founding partner of Asensi Lawyers, was blunt, calling the royal decree “a disgrace”.

“I believe that gambling cannot be regulated depending on the inspiration of the person that chairs that lottery but I believe that gambling is something that needs to be in the political agenda. And the message must come from the government to the regulator and the regulator needs to execute that.”

He also appealed to lobbyists in the audience to make their voices known about what sort of gaming policies they would like to see during the open feedback windows of the latest royal decrees, including the one that would centralise deposit limits.

For the future, more royal decrees can be expected, as Arana warned that the DGOJ aims to regulate with speed.

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