Italy’s Communications Authority Probes Google Over Gambling Ads

Italy’s communications watchdog, Agcom, has launched a probe into whether Google has been violating the country’s ban on all forms of gambling advertising, news emerged late last week.

According to recent media reports, Agcom has instigated an inquiry into Google Inc, Google Ireland Limited, and Google Italy over adverts for international online gambling operators that appear as top results in Google searches.

Italy introduced a blanket ban on gambling advertising in the summer of 2018. The country’s then newly sworn-in government passed the so-called Dignity Decree that basically prohibited all forms of gambling ads.

The Decree was spearheaded by Italy’s former Deputy Prime Minister and current Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio. Minister Di Maio said at the time that he was promoting a blanket ban on gambling adverts as part of a wider effort to crack down on gambling.

Despite opposition and warnings that it would have a massively negative impact on the gambling industry, the advertising ban took effect in early 2019.

It now seems that Agcom is looking to determine whether the ban covers search results that place ads for international gambling operators at the very top of Google’s results pages.

Case Was First Expected to Be Dismissed

The case against Google was initially expected to be dismissed, but it emerged last week that Agcom has requested additional information on the matter. It is also understood that Italy’s communications authority has taken on a handful of cases against the search engine giant since the introduction of the blanket ban on gambling advertising.

The majority of those cases have centered around the so-called bonus offers that casino and sports betting operators’ websites are usually packed with.

Agcom has so far taken action in five of the cases and has ruled that bonus offers constitute gambling advertising. In the most recent case from July this year, an Italy-licensed online gambling company had to pay a reduced €16,000 fine over a welcome bonus offer.

The operator has argued that the offer did not include a call to action, but Agcom said that it featured “attractive claims” as well as “explicit invitations to join the offer” and “graphics typical of promotional communication.”

The Italian government restructured Agcom’s leadership earlier this year and appointed Giacomo Lasorella as the regulator’s Presitent. Upon his appointment, Mr. Lasorella said that he would take a tougher stance on Italy’s advertising laws and regulations.

Italy’s communications watchdog last year ruled on several disputes that involved industry and football executives criticizing the ban on betting sponsorships. The regulator ruled in favor of those executives who pressed for a review of the country’s gambling advertising laws.

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