Google is now complying with the blanket ban that the new Italian coalition government recently introduced. This means that content or services related to gambling will no longer appear on Google search results in Italy.
Background to this ban
There has been a lot of turbulence in Italy, with a new coalition recently getting into power. It is populist and anti-gambling, which is the reason for this blanket ban on gambling-related ads. A lot of uproar has greeted the ban because many politicians have business relationships with companies in this sector.
This new law includes sponsorship from gambling companies; those changes will come into effect on January 1, 2019. The government believes that these measures will protect the interests of the vulnerable.
With many sporting organizations relying heavily on gambling-related sponsorships, this could lead to a lot of turmoil. Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has even talked about lobbying in Europe for a similar restriction on gambling ads all across the region.
Currently, a dozen teams in the Serie A (the top football league in Italy) have gambling sponsorships. The loss of this sponsorship money could prove costly for the clubs, as they might struggle to meet the financial fair play (FFP) rules that are laid out by UEFA.
In particular, there could be a struggle to meet the break-even requirement. AC Milan was given a two-year ban this year for not meeting the FFP obligations. There will also be a knock-on effect for televised games because a lot of networks rely on gambling ads during pre-game, half-time, and post-game broadcasts.
Responding to this new decree, a representative from the Serie A said: “It would cause competitive disadvantages to the Italian clubs and our team’s advertising budget would be redirected abroad.”
If a club fails to comply with these new laws, they face a fine of at least £45,000 ($59,000) or 5% of the total value of the sponsorship. The proceeds of these fines will go towards those who are dealing with gambling addiction issues.
Google and its compliance
With the new Italian government’s “Dignity Decree” approved, Google has been happy to change its advertising policies in Italy to cater to this ban. There was some uncertainty about what approach Google would take on this issue, but it has all now been made clear.
Google announced: “Starting July 16, 2018, only state lotteries with deferred drawing will be allowed to run gambling advertisements in Italy.”
The ban still does not come into effect until the turn of the year and, as a result of appeals from media companies and sports club owners, there will be a transition period. That period will last until June 30, 2019, and will allow parties to fulfill contracts that had been signed before the decree was approved.
The Lega-5Star government is certainly in the bad books of the country’s gambling leaders, as well as key stakeholders in the sector. This announcement by Google is the first time that a global company has announced its intention to comply with the new gambling ad decree. It seems inevitable that the kingpins like Twitter and Facebook will follow in the footsteps of Google in this regard.
It is also inevitable that key gambling stakeholders will launch a legal counter-challenge. The new decree will be challenged both in the Italian Parliament and in the European Court.
However, the government is standing tough in their stance, and the deputy prime minister has called out political and business stakeholders, saying that consumers in Italy need to be protected from the evils of gambling. He has talked about how this ban has been in the plans of his party for a long time, and he even called out famous players who appeared in gambling ads, such as AS Roma hero Francesco Totti.
This issue certainly looks like it is going to rumble on for the foreseeable future. Many will be keeping a close eye on those sports organization and media groups that heavily rely on gambling-related revenue to see what level of compliance they can adhere to.