Italian soccer alarmed by ban on gambling adverts

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2017 file photo, Bologna's Simone Verdi scores during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Bologna, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy. The Decreto Dignita, which was approved by Italy’s council of ministers on Monday, July 2, 2018, will come into effect on January 1, 2019, all advertising of gambling-related products and services will be banned, while sports clubs will also be prohibited from carrying sponsors from that industry. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, files)
FILE - In this April 15, 2018 file photo, Bologna's Simone Verdi celebrates after scoring during the Serie A soccer match between Bologna and Verona at the Renato Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna, Italy. The Decreto Dignita, which was approved by Italy’s council of ministers on Monday, July 2, 2018, will come into effect on January 1, 2019, all advertising of gambling-related products and services will be banned, while sports clubs will also be prohibited from carrying sponsors from that industry. (Giorgio Benvenuti/ANSA via AP, file)

MILAN — Italian soccer's top league has expressed "extreme worry" after the approval of a new decree that would see a blanket ban on any gambling-related advertising in Italy.

The Decreto Dignita, which was approved by Italy's council of ministers on Monday, will come into effect on January 1, 2019.

All advertising of gambling-related products and services will be banned, while sports clubs will also be prohibited from carrying sponsors from that industry. Those with existing agreements will be granted concessions to honor their contracts, while the decree excludes the state-run national lottery.

It will impact directly on sport, especially football, where more than half the Italian clubs in top-tier Serie A have a sponsorship deal with a betting company.

"The Lega Serie A is following with extreme worry the developments of the "Decreto Legge Dignita" and the impact on Italian football of rules which ban advertising from betting firms," said the governing body in a statement.

"In highlighting the clear disparity compared to other countries in Europe and the world, where such bans don't exist, and showing the negative consequences of such a measure, the Lega Serie A points out that in the 2017-18 season 12 top-flight clubs had a partnership agreement with companies from the betting sector."

It said football clubs would lose millions of euros worth of sponsorship.

More money could also be lost from a knock-on effect on revenue from the sale of television rights as TV companies would not be able to sell advertising slots at high prices to gambling firms during games.

The European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which represents the leading privately owned European online betting and gaming operators, told The Associated Press that "each year gambling operators contribute about 120 million euros ($140 million) to sponsor sports teams and leagues in Italy."

Serie A's governing body pointed to the success of the Premier League and warned of lost money for Italian teams.

"In the Premier League, identified by everyone as the benchmark for its ability to generate resources, 45 percent of clubs have a gaming firm as a shirt sponsor and in all the stadiums, on screens pitchside, there is advertising from betting companies," its statement said. "Prohibiting the firms from this sector to invest in advertising in our country would bring competitive disadvantages to Italian clubs, directing abroad advertising budgets meant for our teams."

The Lega Serie A has said it is ready to sit down with the parties involved in the hope that amendments can be made to the decree and solutions found to stem gambling problems and prevent addiction.

Genoa president Enrico Preziosi feels the decree would only aid illegal betting.

"It's madness," he said. "It would be a huge blow for us and wouldn't even resolve the problem it wants to face ... They don't understand the devastating effects there will be on football, where thousands of people work."

There are further questions over how effective the ban will be and how it can be put into practice when foreign teams with a betting company as a shirt sponsor play in Italy. Gambling advertising will also clearly be seen when matches from other leagues are broadcast in Italy.

"We would also question the practicality of introducing a total ban on advertising as a result of the cross-border nature of the Internet and television," said EGBA Secretary General Maarten Haijer in a statement to the AP. "Italian citizens will continue to see gambling advertising, except that those ads will advertise websites that are not licensed in Italy."

The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned a federal law that had banned most sports betting.

But while it is becoming more accessible in America, Italy is cracking down on advertising with betting on the increase in the country.

Official statistics show that 101.85 billion euros was spent on gambling in Italy in 2017 — a six per cent increase from 2016 and up some 142 per cent from 2007. There are also nearly a million people with some form of gambling addiction, nearly half of whom are unemployed.

However, the EGBA claims a total ban is "counter-productive" to protecting consumers.

"One of the important benefits of gambling advertising is that it directs Italian customers towards those gambling operators who are licensed to operate and comply with the rules in Italy," said Haijer.

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