News Analysis: Gaming gives TV muted welcome

Broadcast advertising may soon be an option for the industry, but will brands choose to use it?

Camelot's late, lamented 'Lady Luck' character may have had our screens to herself when it came to gambling-related brand icons, but all this could change from September next year, when proposals under the Gambling Act come into force and open up broadcast advertising to the entire gaming fraternity.

Last week, as part of the Act, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) unveiled joint proposals for guidelines relating to gambling advertising, which will remain open for consultation until September. Under the proposals, firms including casinos, bookmakers and gaming websites, will be allowed to advertise on broadcast media for the first time.

Current legislation bans most betting and gaming ads from TV and radio, and casinos are not even allowed to use bold type when listing their phone numbers in telephone directories. However, the rules have become more relaxed over the past few years, with Ofcom permitting gambling firms to sponsor TV shows and some lotteries being able to run ads.

The CAP/BCAP proposals state that gaming firms must protect young people and 'other vulnerable persons' from being exploited by their advertising. This means brands will not be permitted to schedule ads during programmes targeting young people.

Advertising content will also be prohibited from suggesting that gambling can provide an escape from professional, educational or personal problems, such as loneliness or depression. Nor will it be able to promote gambling as a solution to financial concerns or a way to enhance personal qualities, such as sexual prowess or self esteem.

In terms of scheduling and the portrayal of consumer behaviour, then, the proposals, which also limit the ads to featuring people over the age of 25, are almost identical to the guidelines relating to the promotion of alcohol.

Not surprisingly, the gaming industry, keen for more flexibility, says it is prepared to work within the proposals. 'We take the social responsibility aspect very seriously,' says a spokesman for the Tote. He adds that most big UK gaming operators are members of, and make donations to, Gamcare (a charity that helps those with gambling problems).

Not everyone is happy with the proposals, though. Community groups are angry that while tobacco advertising has been progressively outlawed, rules on gambling, which in recent months has been consistently highlighted for its addictive nature, appear to be slackening.

'We are concerned that the increased promotion of gambling, and growth of gambling opportunities could exacerbate debt issues and the potential for gambling addiction,' says a Citizens Advice Bureau spokeswoman.

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) senior legal manager Chris Hackford dismisses this argument. 'Placing a bet isn't going to do you any harm,' he says. 'But one cigarette is bad for you because it is physically addictive, so the BCAP/CAP and government approach is right.'

Hackford also points out that if these proposals are approved, the gaming industry will be properly regulated and companies will need to be licensed in order to advertise in the UK.

However, broadcast advertising may be the least of online gaming firms' concerns. Over the past couple of years, the marketing spend of the industry's major players has slipped considerably.

This has been due mainly to a number of flotations among gaming operators. Although initially successful, these flotations were swiftly followed by a sudden dip in share price Meanwhile, the bigger, bricks-and-mortar operators have been suffering from an erosion in numbers of new players.

Moreover, agencies and broadcasters anticipating a flourish of business leads should be aware that marketers at gambling firms say they are unlikely to rush into the world of broadcast advertising, with many stressing that they will need to be convinced it is right for them.

'It is very early days and we will have to give the opportunity serious consideration,' says a spokesman for the Tote. 'If broadcast advertising fits with our marketing strategy and will drive business, then we will consider it. We already have a TV presence through our sponsorship deals with Channel 4, but expanding our TV presence will depend on the final regulations,' he adds.

'Although the gaming industry is enjoying a higher profile and becoming a more mainstream activity, we are unlikely to be buying a slot in Coronation Street,' adds William Hill marketing director Chris Edgington. 'Only 5% of the UK population regularly has a flutter, so that sort of strategy wouldn't meet our objectives.'

Stanley Leisure is also wary of jumping into the broadcast arena. 'We are not sure whether we will advertise on TV and we are unlikely to be the first to do so,' says the casino operator's chief executive Bob Wiper.

Although welcomed by many in the industry, the CAP/BCAP proposals come as no surprise and are unlikely to result in an influx of gambling advertising business. Until they are clarified and become compulsory, firms seem more than content with ther current marketing activities.

'It is not quite time for the Daily Mail to start planning its anti-gambling campaign,' quips William Hill's Edgington. But perhaps it is exactly this threat of negative publicity that is prompting such a low-key response to what is probably the biggest revolution in gambling promotion.

DATA FILE - GAMING FIRMS' PROMOTIONAL SPEND

2005 2004 04-05
(pounds) (pounds) % chng
1 Cassava Enterprises 24,764,529 28,078,787 -11.8
2 Ladbrokes 2,733,250 4,315,971 -36.7
3 William Hill Bookmakers 2,565,232 2,728,721 -6.0
4 Tote 1,819,726 2,156,242 -15.6
5 Coral Racing & Bookmakers 2,124,337 1,633,388 30.1
6 Victor Chandler Bookmakers 1,539,965 1,831,402 -15.9
7 Bet365 1,562,385 1,418,077 10.1
8 Blue Square 1,107,537 1,138,623 -2.7
9 BetFair 456,027 1,570,762 -71.0

Source: Nielsen Media Research

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