Gambling in Britain has never been more popular – and never more talked about. There was uproar when it was announced that the UK’s first supercasino would be in Manchester – controversially snubbing leisure capital Blackpool – and the forthcoming relaxation of gambling advertising looks set to put betting back at the forefront of the news agenda.
The Gambling Act 2005, which comes into force in September, will lift the ban on TV and radio advertising for betting shops such as Coral Ladbrokes, casinos such as Gala and online gambling sites such as 888.com (although sponsorship is currently allowed). But while lifting this ban might set tongues wagging, Richard Marsham, managing partner of The Leith Agency, believes the first agencies to work in this field will still be subject to close scrutiny.
“It seems to me to be a fairly good idea that the regulations have been relaxed,” he says. “But when you look at the code, it is still very stringent in terms of what you can and cannot do. In many ways it strikes me as a bit of a nightmare brief. As always when they create theseÂ codes,Â itÂ dependsÂ howÂ muchÂ the restrictions are enforced. There are certainly grey areas as to what may be acceptable, and the first people who go through it will probably have a pretty hellish time trying to get their work approved.”
Marsham believes the Advertising Standards Authority is right to make the new rules difficult for advertisers, and hopes the regulations are watertight to allow agencies confidence in their work.
“Initially they should be fairly strict to see how it goes,” he says. “A lot of these regulations have been driven by online gambling, and the amount of people getting into serious debt. If there is a strict code, it will actually help. Rather than saying, ‘You can’t do it,’ it’s better if they say, ‘You can do it, but there are rules and regulations to show how to do it.’
“We have to treat it in the same way we do alcohol advertising. With any subject matter that has sensitivities surrounding it, a code should be there. It’s a case of making sure the rules are clear and not open for interpretation.”
The explosion of online gambling has fuelled an industry worth billions of pounds, and the lifting of the UK ban will surely see a raft of ad agencies looking to add a big client to their portfolios. “The ban being lifted will bring in a tremendous amount of money,” says Peter Clayton, managing director of Clayton Graham. “If you look within the industry, you can track what people spend, you have a history of what the strategy is, you can tell which way that company is going. They’re all waiting for the gun to go off, but a lot of companies will be predicting who will be spending, how big they will be spending and it’ll probably be like a Scottish property auction with ‘offers over’.”
Clayton believes that as a result of this decision, many clients may overspend in a bid to achieve stand-out early on, and this will lead to an influx of rival advertising. “In situations like this, you normally get a land grab as companies try to be the dominant player,” he says. “The starting gun will go off and some people will overpay for the exposure, and the converse effect of that is that it will put more money into the industry. But I would expect all guns to be blazing when the restrictions ease and it will be really important to these companies to dominate. There won’t be any surprises. You’ll find that Ladbrokes will aim to be number one and spend what they can afford to.”
And with gambling adverts potentially flooding on to television and radio, it is possible that online spend may be affected too – albeit in a negative way. Fiona Proudler, creative services director of Realise, does not believe this will be the case though. “I cannot see that the move to allow gambling ads on TV and radio, with all the restrictions that will go with it, will affect the quantity of ad revenue online,” she says. “Online promotions will remain an important and justifiable part of any marketing campaign for gambling organisations.
“Online advertising is a powerful advertising media and gambling is already widely promoted on the web,” she says. “The beauty of online advertising is that it’s measurable. More and more brands are using it as a result. Online ads are no less creative than TV or radio formats, and they play on the very interactivity that engages people in web poker or bingo.”
Another area that may feel a negative effect from the decision is the bingo industry, which has long been able to advertise on all media formats. Peter Perrins, managing director of Carlton Bingo, says the industry was already up against many rules and regulations which meant it found itself in the role as “the poor relation, with other gaming providers fairing better in the regulation stakes”.
So, with the gambling industry opening up, does Perrins believe bingo companies will have to spend more money on marketing to compete?
“Bingo providers have for some time acknowledged the merits of advertising, with significant budgets now spent each year on TV, radio and press campaigns,” he says. “Like any activity vying for that lucrative leisure pound, it is important for each provider not to rest on their laurels. We all have to keep the message out there and remind people that bingo is a fun, safe and social pastime enjoyed by thousands of the population each week.”
advertising should not:
Ã¯Portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour
that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial,
social or emotional harm
Ã¯Exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity,
inexperience or lack of knowledge of children, young
persons or other vulnerable persons
Ã¯Suggest that gambling can be a solution to financial
Ã¯Link gambling to seduction, sexual success or
Ã¯Be likely to be of particular appeal to children or
young persons, especially by reflecting or being
associated with youth culture