Ads No More: UK Operators Agree to Stop TV and Radio Advertising Until the End of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Countries around the world have been scrambling to deal with the ongoing and wide-ranging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in recent weeks, with many governments decreeing their less-than-positive views on the gambling sector.
Many countries have restricted gamblers in some form, and a few others have banned online betting completely for the duration of the pandemic. However, UK operators are among the first to voluntarily impose limits on their own advertising.
From May 7th, all member companies of the UK’s Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) will replace their television and advert slots with charity or problem gambling awareness campaigns until the end of the lockdown—and remove them entirely where contracts allow for it.
The BGC represents some of the biggest gambling operators in the UK, including Flutter (formerly PaddyPower Betfair), GVC Holdings, Bet365, and the Stars Group. This advertisement suspension will last until at least June 5th, when the group will convene with operators to assess the situation.
The BGC was keen to point out that it was taking this step after already overseeing “a drop in advertising spend and the volume of TV sport and casino advertisements of up to 10%.”
The Council CEO Michael Dugher also suggested that their largest competitor, National Lottery operator Camelot, might take similar measures. This echoes concerns from other countries that have restricted online gambling and also feel that state-owned lottery enterprises are receiving unfairly lenient treatment compared to online casinos.
Optibet in Latvia and The Belgian Association of Gambling Operators are both taking their respective governments to court over some of their recent restrictions, so it’s nice to see some of the UK’s (and Europe’s) biggest operators proactively taking steps to avoid conflict with regulators.
Although some companies have reported rising revenues as gamblers shift towards online sites because of coronavirus-enforced venue closures across the world, the BGC says many of its members have not seen revenues go up enough to compensate for sports betting losses.
“There hasn’t been quite an explosion in people betting online in the UK as some had predicted—in fact, the opposite is true with total revenue down by up to 60 percent,” stated Mr. Dugher.
However, he says he firmly believes that this advert ban is a prudent measure. “This move further underlines our commitment to safer betting and gaming, with many people cut off and feeling anxious about their livelihoods or loved ones,” he concluded.
Other companies are also taking note of the growing public and media pressure on gambling operators in the UK.
For example, the Gamesys Group, the owner of Jackpot Joy and Virgin Games, announced last week that it would suspend all advertising for the duration of the UK’s lockdown.
It also put its sponsorship of popular ITV program Loose Women on hold. The program will be replaced by an advert for the charity Women’s Aid, to which Gamesys has donated £200,000.
These heavy measures are actually supported by a significant section of UK gamblers and the wider public—with up to 45% of regular gamblers in favor of advertising restrictions, according to market research from campaign group Clean Up Gambling.
The same report said that only 28% of regular (more than weekly) online gamblers had upped their spending since the beginning of the lockdown on March 23rd.
Although the government or the UKGC hadn’t officially stepped in to curb advertising yet, it had sent several letters heavily implying that regulation might be in the pipeline if casinos weren’t to take their own actions.
The sector, which employs hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and was responsible for the wealth of the single largest individual taxpayer, was already being squeezed by regulators well before the COVID-19 respiratory virus hit UK shores.
Keep checking back for the latest updates on this story and other gambling news from around the world during these uncertain times—and stay safe!