Spanish Court Revokes Stringent Gambling Advertising Regulations

In a significant judicial decision, Spain’s Supreme Court has brought about substantial changes in the country’s approach to the regulation of gambling advertisements. The court’s ruling has impacted several stringent directives that were set in place by Royal Decree 958/2020, which originated in November 2020. The initial regulations, seen as a shield against the exposure of minors to gambling content, enforced a prohibition on sponsorship agreements with gambling operators and curtailed advertising across different media platforms.

The decree previously implemented a time-restricted allowance for gambling advertisements on television and radio, confining them to the early morning hours from 1 am to 5 am, including outlets like YouTube. Furthermore, gambling operators found their promotional activities curtailed, with freedoms to market directly only to existing followers on social media platforms.

The ambit of these regulations also encompassed online age-gating to shield minors and prohibited the use of promotional bonuses, albeit allowing leeway for advertisements directed at verified customers. The momentum of these changes continued into the following year when a new legislative move included a ban on the employment of celebrities in gambling advertisements and the complete prohibition of sport sponsorships related to gambling.

October 2022 marked an escalation in the regulatory framework, introduced to further tighten the reins on gambling advertisements by governing the nature of content within them. It became illegal to reference aspects such as social status, economic stability, physical health, or mental wellness in gambling advertisements. The act of presenting gambling as a priority over family and friendships was also prohibited, extending to the depiction of money or luxury goods.

However, this hardened stance induced a pushback from the gaming industry, leading the Spanish Digital Gaming Association (Jdigital) to mount an appeal against the Royal Decree. Despite their efforts, the appeal faced rejection in November 2023. Nevertheless, in a turn of events, the Supreme Court has recently stepped in to partially uphold the appeal, annulling multiple measures of the Royal Decree upon review.

The Supreme Court remarked, in its announcement of the decision, that advertising is an integral part of the freedom of business, which can be regulated but not without clear legal boundaries established by the legislative authority, and not through independent standards unrelated to those legal criteria.

Deeming several of the Decree’s measures as lacking “the necessary legal coverage,” the Supreme Court has determined to nullify them. Among the annulments is Article 13, which pertained to advertising targeting new customers, now permitting operators to market to players who have held an account for less than 30 days. The annulments extend to allow operators to advertise in public-accessible lottery establishments.

Article 15, that barred celebrities from appearing in gambling advertisements, has also been overturned. This effectively negates the previous ban on commercial communications engaging individuals or personas of notable public relevance. Additionally, sections that disallowed gambling advertisements on video sharing platforms have been rendered ineffective, thereby re-opening avenues for such advertising on platforms like YouTube.

It is also crucial to note that the new ruling permits advertising over social media to all users above the age of 18, another reversal within the industry’s advertising landscape. However, certain restrictions remain in place; specifically, Article 12 addressing sports sponsorship is upheld. This continues to bar operators from advertising or using branding in ways viewable by minors and maintains the prohibition on sponsoring sporting events or related broadcasts.

As this legal saga unfolds, the industry is still digesting the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling. More information and analysis are expected as the effects of the annulments become clearer and stakeholders adjust to the newly redrawn lines of gambling advertisement regulations in Spain.

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