Focus on gambling advertising was the name of a conference held in Gothenburg, April 15. The event was organized by the Gothenburg Region, which is a co-operative organization for the municipalities in western Sweden. Health care and social services are among the issues coordinated by the Gothenburg Region.
Gambling advertising has been a hot topic in Sweden since the re-regulation of the gambling market on January 1, 2019. Gambling advertising in mass media was already very extensive. However, after the introduction of the new licensing system, it reached volumes surpassing anything in the past. Furthermore, gambling advertising started to appear in social media and on billboards in the streets.
Many people felt that it had gone too far. Gambling advertising appeared everywhere and most of it promoted online casino, which nowadays undoubtedly is the most harmful form of gambling in Sweden. Appeals were made in social media, demanding an end to the massive promotion of gambling. Representatives of problem gambling treatment services and mutual support societies raised their voices. Some politicians called for a ban on gambling advertising, in general or for the most harmful forms of gambling. The Svenska Spel (the state owned gambling company) stopped promoting its online casino.
Several times a week harsh criticism of gambling advertising appeared in newspapers and on television. The Minister for Communications and Civil matters Ardalan Shekarabi – who is ultimately responsible for gambling regulation – came under heavy pressure. He handled this in the same way as numerous politicians have done in the past, in similar situations: he declared that the regulation of gambling advertising will be the subject of a government inquiry (the already ongoing Gambling Market Inquiry). Thus, nothing will happen until October 31, 2020, when the inquiry presents its report.
However, the two trade organizations for gambling companies, as well as some other stakeholders in the gambling sector, maintained that the debate about gambling advertising was exacerbated and unbalanced. They argued that the volume of gambling advertising would decrease after some time, that the gambling companies had already agreed on stricter self-regulation, which would make things better, and that that case law would develop as to what more precisely is acceptable and unacceptable promotion of gambling. Furthermore, they argued that advertising for some forms of gambling (i.e.) lotteries appear to be rather harmless, and there are also gambling advertising which is popular and much liked (for example, the “Vinne” miniature horse ads made by the horse betting company ATG). But the most substantial argument was that additional restrictions on gambling advertising might undermine the cornerstone of the new gambling regulation: that commercial gambling companies, who operate on the Swedish market, should choose to apply for a license in Sweden.
This was the context of the conference on gambling advertising, organized by the Gothenburg Region. I presented an overview of what impacts gambling advertising, of various kinds, may have on gambling participation and problem gambling. Professor Anders C. Håkansson presented results from a study on the content of Swedish gambling advertising, and more generally talked about the psychological mechanisms of gambling advertising. Andreas Prochazka from the Swedish Consumer Agency explained how gambling advertising is regulated. Representatives from treatment providers and the mutual support society of problem gamblers in Gothenburg told about their experiences of help-seeking problem gamblers.