Spanish betting advertising decree approved despite EGBA intervention
The Spanish government has today given the green light to restrictions on gambling advertising in the country despite opposition from the European Gaming and Betting Association and domestic soccer clubs with sponsors from the sector.
Alberto Garzon, the government’s minister for consumer affairs, has been pushing for the legislation for several months and the royal decree on gambling advertising has now been approved by the council of ministers.
Today’s announcement concludes a year-long effort to change the law, with operators in Spain having been informed of potential drastic changes to advertising codes ahead of the 2019 general election.
Enforced as a new federal law, gambling adverts in Spain will only be permitted between 1am and 5am across traditional media, although this excludes state-owned lotteries.
The ban is opposed by EGBA, which has claimed it violates established European Union laws in allowing the state-run ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles - Spanish National Organisation of the Blind) and SELAE (Sociedad Estatal Loterías y Apuestas del Estado - State Society for Lotteries and State Gambling) to continue advertising.
EGBA sent a letter to the consumer affairs ministry claiming that the advertising restrictions are not consistent with EU competition guidelines and that they were implemented without a basis of evidence.
The EU has established state aid rules, and the exemption given to Spain’s two lottery operators violate those rules, according to EGBA.
ONCE alone accounts for 34 per cent of the entire gambling sector’s advertising outlay in Spain.
EGBA is hopeful the Spanish government will reconsider the legislation, as it does not believe there is a major gambling problem in the country.
Maarten Haijer, EGBA’s secretary general, stated: “We urge the Spanish government to reconsider its advertising restrictions because there is a lack of data to support the measures and the granting of advertising privileges to state-run companies over private ones could potentially be in conflict with EU state aid rules.
“The restrictions clearly discriminate against private companies and favour the economic interests of the state-run lotteries, who are by far the country’s leading advertisers in the gambling sector.
“And while EGBA fully supports responsible advertising, the scope and type of restrictions proposed are not justified by the evidence available, including the country’s relatively low problem gambling rate and the significantly lower public awareness towards gambling advertising compared to other major advertising sectors.”
The Spanish government had already told clubs in Spanish soccer's top-tier LaLiga and second-tier Segunda Division that are sponsored by betting firms that they will need to find a way to end all such arrangements by the end of the current 2020-21 season.
A transition period to the end of the current season in May will be implemented, with 30 August, 2021 the specific deadline for when existing sponsorships must be cancelled.
The legislation has been mooted for several months, and while it was originally thought it would be phased in over the next few years, Garzon had insisted since the summer that it would come into effect before the end of this year.
The transition period is likely to provide some relief to clubs across the country’s professional soccer structure, especially in LaLiga, where seven out of 20 teams have betting companies as their main sponsors.
That number includes traditional heavyweights Valencia (pictured) and Sevilla.
Across LaLiga and the Segunda Division combined, 11 out of 42 sides have a betting company as their main sponsor.
Garzon is understood to have sent another letter to the 25 clubs in Spain’s top two divisions with betting partnerships to reinforce the requirement for them to cut ties.
Under the new law, Spanish licensed operators must ensure that all digital and social media adverts feature ‘age restriction filters’ to be approved by audiences before viewing.
Gambling promotions and content will also not be able to feature any sports athletes (active or retired) or celebrity endorsements.
The announcement is unlikely to go down well with LaLiga and its clubs with Oscar Mayo, LaLiga’s director of business, marketing and international development, having admitted last month that the league was “concerned” about the gambling advertising ban.
He said at that point LaLiga was “talking to the government to do it in the best possible way, understanding that they want to regulate the betting online.”
The league itself has also continued to embrace the betting sector, signing regional sponsorship deals with M88 in Asia and M-Bet in sub-Saharan Africa over the past few months.
Javier Tebas, LaLiga’s outspoken president, had said last week that the league would look to build in a preferred lengthier transition period of up to three seasons if possible, and that the ban could lead to combined losses across the 20 top-flight clubs of €90 million ($105.4 million).
Any such loss would represent another commercial blow at a time when the clubs are deprived of gate money revenue while fans are excluded from matches because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the likelihood of the legislation, Spanish clubs continued to sign sponsorship agreements with betting companies in the run-up to the 2020-21 season, which got under way last month.
These included Real Betis, which signed a two-year shirt deal with Betway, also now the official bookmaker of Celta Vigo.
Winamax has extended its shirt sponsorship deal with Granada for two years, while newly-promoted Cadiz signed up with Dafabet for the same period.