Gambling advertisement ban must not undermine consumer protection

Charles Gillespie, CEO of Group, addresses the Irish Labour Party's call for a blanket ban on all forms of gambling advertising in the Republic of Ireland

Gambling advertising is absolutely everywhere in Ireland. Between the press, TV, radio and sponsorships of major sports teams, it is simply impossible to avoid seeing the logo or promotional messages from a bookmaker if one is even just a casual follower of sport. Alarm bells are ringing on both sides of the Irish sea as the UK is now undertaking a comprehensive review of their gambling regulations and here in Ireland the Labour Party has started making noise about similarly reigning in the reach of the bookies by proposing a ban on gambling advertising.

It is obvious to me and many other senior executives across the online gambling industry that action is overdue. We welcome the debate and look forward to finding a set of guidelines which foster a sustainable industry while minimising gambling-related harm and respecting individual freedom. Less advertising of gambling is certainly part of that new balance but, as with anything, the devil is in the details. A full ban on gambling advertising is an easily approachable rallying cry that makes a great talking point. It is also an intellectually lazy proposal that would be so blunt in its effects as to undermine the actual objectives of the Labour Party.

Empowered, educated consumers make better decisions. This is doubly true for online gambling services where consumers must navigate a bewildering landscape of options which includes everything from Irish-regulated, FTSE 100 companies to fly-by-night operators supplying their services from overseas. Irish consumers need to be sure before they play that their chosen online gambling destination is a responsible, well-reputed company, not to mention actually regulated to offer their services in Ireland. Navigating this landscape is a key part of the customer journey and online comparison sites play a fundamental role in helping these consumers separate the wheat from the chaff. As envisioned by the Labour Party, their bill could zap the advertising revenue which finances the development of these pro-consumer resources. The resulting void would inevitably be filled by the offshore gambling operators who are beyond the reach of Irish regulation and pay no taxes to Ireland.

Consider this

As the Labour Party and the rest of the Irish government fine-tune their proposals to reduce gambling advertising, I urge them to consider the important nuances of different forms of advertising. Shirt sponsorships, along with TV and radio advertising, are designed to create brand awareness broadly, making an impact on consumers who were not otherwise thinking about gambling. On the other hand, consumers who have decided on their own that they are interested in online gambling should be free to research their next steps. These consumers typically employ the use of search engines to locate information on individual companies or the industry. Implementing an advertising ban on this section of the gambling ecosystem will cause more harm than good by diminishing gambling consumers’ ability to make informed decisions.

Beyond the obvious consumer protection considerations, politicians should also bear in mind the truly unique and rich tradition of horseracing and sports betting within Irish culture. Online gambling is, in so many respects, a worldwide story of Irish success. Paddy Power’s public persona may not be to everyone’s taste, but behind the jokes and the PR stunts is the largest online gambling company in the world, Flutter Entertainment, based right here in our capital city. Other Irish businesses like Dundalk-based Boylesports and my very own Group are tangible examples of the outsized role Ireland plays in the global industry. While a reduction in advertising is warranted, any reduction will likely lead to job losses in the advertising and social media departments of Irish gaming operators. Let us not forget that the Irish gambling industry collectively employs thousands of people and pays over €100m per year in taxes.

The gambling sector may be under more scrutiny than ever before, yet it is pivotal – both economically and culturally – to Irish society. Let us not undermine the industry’s employees or its consumers when the opportunity to debate Labour’s proposal presents itself.

Charles Gillespie, Group

Charles Gillespie is founder and chief executive of Dublin-based Group.

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