AgCom has issued a fine for the breach of the Italian gambling advertising ban through a bonus campaign by an operator.
The Italian gambling advertising ban and its interpretation from AgCom
The rules on the Italian gambling advertising prohibit any advertising relating to games with cash winnings. The breach of these rules is sanctioned with fines up to 20% of the value of the sponsorship or advertisement, and, in any case, with an amount of, at least, € 50,000.
Given the broad perimeter of the ban, which would prevent operators from running their business, the Italian communications authority, AgCom, had issued guidelines to clarify its scope, excluding from its applicability, among others, informative communications, but only under specific circumstances.
There is no doubt, however, that the guidelines are open to misinterpretations that are due to the broad scope ban that was initially meant to introduce a total prohibition on promotions and sponsorship. Such a ban would have, however, been in contrast with the Italian Constitution setting out the freedom of doing business and the EU principle of freedom of services. As a consequence, AgCom attempted to re-define the limits of its operation.
The new fine for breach of the Italian gambling advertising ban
I have recently published an article on the second fine for breach of the Italian gambling advertising ban. It was though an intense period for AgCom which now issued an additional fine. As in the previous case, the Italian communications authority challenged a bonus promotion occurring on the website of an Italian licensed operator. In particular, there was a welcome bonus containing – according to AgCom – “verbal (attractive claims and use of praiseworthy expressions and explicit invitations to join the offer) and graphics typical of promotional communication”.
The company replied that
- the offering of a bonus per se does not trigger a promotion since bonuses are regulated by Italian gaming rules which define them as a mere non-withdrawable amount that can be used for the gambling activity;
- the challenged claim did not contain a call-to-action, but an invitation to review the applicable terms;
- the terms “play” and “win” cannot be in breach of Italian gambling advertising rules since there are even games approved by the gambling authority using such terms; and
- the bonus-related communication occurred on the gambling site where players expected to receive gambling-related information.
AgCom did not reply to the operator’s defense since the latter decided to spontaneously settle the case, paying the applicable minimum fine reduced to 1/3 i.e., € 16K as the payment took place before the issue of the AgCom fine. Given the uncertainties of the potential outcome, the operator preferred to cash in on the procedure allowing a discount on the potential fine in case the position of the authority is not challenged.
It is not possible to foresee the position of AgCom on the defenses raised by the operator. The matter is quite relevant since the decision would have given further guidelines to operators as to the scope of the ban. It should be considered, however, that the board of AgCom changed yesterday, and the new board might take a position different from the previous one.
On the same topic, you might find interesting the article “Top 3 best practices to handle the Italian gambling advertising ban “.