The initiative to amend GEO 77/2009 (PL-x no. 559/2019), under debate in the Chamber of Deputies, represents a theme of maximum interest for the gambling industry at the beginning of this year. Romanian Bookmakers – Patronatul Organizatorilor de Pariuri din România are also focusing on this topic, in order to achieve the objectives of the profile operators and to obtain a fair regulation of their activity.
The gambling industry in Romania is currently one of the most rigorously regulated economic fields. ONJN exercises the position of market arbiter and ensures a degree of transparency that not many other fields enjoy. GEO 77/2009 and its rules provide a coherent regulatory framework, and the effect is observed in the fact that the gambling industry is stable and mature. Despite these realities, however, in the public space in Romania, the criminality associated with this domain or the high addiction at the phenomenon level are often exacerbated in the anti-gambling claims made in the last period. Thus, a negative myth has been created in relation to the industry, a myth that can be changed by combining the industry’s efforts to improve public perception.
Obviously, gambling legislation is still perfectible. The challenges of the industry are constant and come more and more frequently. For example, we mention here the legislative initiative to amend GEO 77, respectively PL-x no 559/2019, currently under debate in the Chamber of Deputies and whose purpose, theoretically, will occur this year. The project involves, among other things, the restriction of promotional activities, consisting of commercial, advertising or specific marketing activities, in order to “provide increased protection for the player with a tendency to develop a gambling addiction”. We certainly need stricter regulation in the area of promotion and marketing, but not before lawmakers to summon the industry representatives and game specialists responsible for conducting studies and presenting views. Also, the legislator is obliged, as required by the norms and procedures of legislative technique, to carry out an impact study, both economically and socially. Unfortunately, however, in this case, gambling operators are in position to deal with restrictive measures without any real analysis of the potential negative impact that advertising has in this area and if it is likely to cause real concern to the vulnerable categories of the population. More specifically, is an informed answer to the question “does advertising in gambling contribute to gambling problems?”
“The impact of advertising on the prevalence of problem gambling is relatively small”
Taking the UK as an example, the need to reduce the damage caused by excessive gambling has been the subject of the most recent campaign to restrict advertising to gambling. But the arguments for the necessity of this campaign were both overridden (by the groups that declared themselves to be concerned about this subject) and underestimated (by the operators who did not oppose the measures). The international research literature on the effects of advertising indicates that there may be a number of harms caused by aggressive advertising, but they are not as widespread in the public space. Many ads are inefficient or reach people who have little or no interest in their message. In addition, many consumers have been shown to have a high degree of skepticism about advertising. The opinions most often expressed on this subject, belonging to several researchers from different corners of the world, indicates only a small connection between certain advertisements and the potential negative effects they may have on those trying to opt out of gambling, further contributing to the recurrence. However, not all advertisements and promotional activities in the industry are the same and, as some researchers admit, before generalizing them, more specific aspects of them should be studied and verified if they are indeed likely to cause concern. “Advertising can be annoying, but we don’t just ban it because it irritates us,” says the author of an article published by the strategic gambling consulting company, Regulus Partners. Moreover, as Professor Per Binde of the University of Gothenburg presented the situation in 2014, “the impact of advertising on the prevalence of problem gambling is generally neither negligible nor considerable, but relatively small”.
Mark Griffiths, a professor at Nottingham Trent University believes that gambling advertising can be a potential public health issue as long as it can be demonstrated that it has a direct and significant effect on the participation in gambling or that it has a direct impact on the manifestation of gambling problems. When asked if advertising creates unrealistic hopes of winning that can later trigger gambling addiction, the author argues that, in fact, very few people are so naive as to believe that eliminating advertising will stop gambling. As with smokers, anyone who wants to find a way to gamble, will do so.
An opaque regulation has a boomerang effect, guided by the principle of “forbidden fruit”
It is clear that one cannot answer the question of whether gambling advertising contributes to the development of gambling problems without the existence of a prior study. There is no evidence to suggest that forbidding gambling advertising would work for solving the problem of gambling addiction. In a paper on the psychology of gambling, professors Griffiths and Wood (2001), from the same University, reported that only educating the public about gambling can have the desired effect. They argue that regulation can have the desired result not through the radical change of gambling, but through other methods of educating and raising public awareness.
There are many good practice examples: The North American State Lottery Association (NASPL) has adopted a list of advertising standards for their members. These standards target the content and tone of Lottery advertising, including game information. The signatory members of NASPL carry out their advertising and marketing practices in accordance with the provisions of these standards. Also, the National Lottery Commission of the United Kingdom has a solid, viable and practical advertising code. Another example of good practice is the Quebec Lottery, which has done a thorough review of its advertising code. Their current policy does not allow aggressive advertising that may arouse children’s interest and prohibit the placement of advertisements in media programs viewed primarily by minors. Moreover, gambling advertisements include 20% of their broadcast line mentions on the helpline and warnings about problems caused by excessive gambling. Equally important in this context is the concept of responsible advertising, which sets rules for campaigns aimed at minimizing the categories of vulnerable persons, adolescents and children.
An opaque regulation has a boomerang effect, guided by the principle of “forbidden fruit” Once an activity is banned, the interest of vulnerable people can be even more aroused. Prohibition of gambling would create many negative effects and would lead to the development of the black market and to the players turning to environments which are difficult to control, where they have no power. Therefore, transparent, limited regulation in the area of promotion and marketing is preferable, so that its negative effects are reduced to a minimum level.
Finally, it is clear that there must be a strong commitment by the industry to promote responsible behavior. Bookmakers aim to contribute to changing the public perception of gambling and, indirectly, to replace initiatives restricting this activity with some imposing rules for responsible promotion. The society must perceive gambling as a means of entertainment, and gambling must aim only at entertainment. The measure of social responsibility is proven not only by its assertion, but also by its support, and the understanding of gambling as a means of entertainment and the respect of the principles of responsible gambling are obligatory elements to be fulfilled in the course of harmonizing the relationship between society and the gambling industry.