THE return of international soccer tournaments in front of a live crowd deserves to be applauded, with the star power of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe bringing fans in droves to bars and pubs eager to make up for a lost pandemic year.

Less cheerful is the fact that many fans are sticking to their screens wherever they are judging by the boom in online gambling fueled by easy smartphone betting and alluring advertising that captivated many during the locking.

With awareness of the mental health, stress and public health costs of gambling addiction on the rise amid Covid-19, this is a signal to ask whether the current rules are tough enough.

Having a captive audience with cash to spare has been good for business: France, whose national team is the favorite among bookmakers to win UEFA EURO2020, recorded a record € 2.2 billion (2.6 billion US dollars or 10.66 billion RM) of online sports betting in the first three months of the year.

The UK, Europe’s largest online gambling market, is also breaking records with events like the Grand National horse race. Shares of Ladbrokes owner Entain Plc and lottery operator La Française des Jeux soared on higher profits.

Yet if the camaraderie of a tent sporting event is increasingly tied to quick bets everywhere, it’s also thanks to a flood of promotions, ads, time-limited bets, and celebrity sponsorships that entice them. people to bet with few risk reminders.

Persistent warnings

While a mix of rules and voluntary restraint on the part of the operators themselves is supposed to keep things under control, it is time to heed the lingering warnings from public health experts that children and problem gamblers do not. are not sufficiently protected.

The content of these advertisements may go beyond the bounds: A recently abandoned betting campaign in France showed a young winner carried through the air in his neighborhood as his elders respectfully knelt before him. But even less blatant ads give off unrealistic vibes of skill-based deals that barely reflect reality. Industry heavyweights gross margins of over 40% show the house tends to win. “If you play more you lose more,” the former Ladbrokes boss said last year, adding that 99% of his customers have lost.

Branding and advertising aimed at normalizing gambling and sports betting has succeeded with ubiquitous logos and tweets. Measures such as a voluntary ban on ‘whistling’ television advertising during matches in the UK, where the industry spends £ 1.5bn (RM8.2bn) per year, means little next to social media and team sponsorships. Top psychiatrists warned it was a public health risk reminiscent of tobacco ads.

Operators want to promote what their business gives back to the economy: The European Gambling and Betting Association said its members in 2019 held 145 licenses across the continent and had invested 107.1 million euros (543 million euros). RM) in sports sponsorship.

It will not go unnoticed after Covid-19. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo sees sports betting as a way to raise taxes, while the huge losses accumulated by the British Premier League will have to be met.

But at a time when athletes are increasingly outspoken about the products they sponsor, and as social attitudes, even in Britain in favor of betting, harden against glitzy gambling promotions, a momentum is likely to build behind stricter rules.

Focusing only on education and research to preserve individual responsibility is not going to reduce it as data suggests problem gambling could affect nearly 1.4 million Britons.

Pure and simple prohibition

An outright ban on gambling advertising, as seen in Italy, is probably not widespread and might work better as a threat than a reality.

But a ban on sports team gambling sponsorships, approved in Spain and under review in the UK, could gain ground. At present, too much responsibility falls on individual clubs who cannot easily afford to turn down £ 5million to £ 10million (RM 29million to RM 59million). Norwich City recently ended its deal with online casino BK8 after fan outcry over the company’s sexualized marketing materials.

Gambling companies can protest, but they can also appreciate a leveling of the marketing game against their rivals.

But the real pressure, as sports marketing expert Richard Denton of the Johan Cruyff Institute points out, will be on football teams whose attempts to leverage other revenue levers (like the Super League) have not always worked. .

When the Formula 1 tobacco sponsorship ended in 2005, it sparked an overhaul of the business model to fill the gap. Other sports will need time and support to make similar changes.

Any new rule must be imposed with care and fairness, but given the social harms involved, they are worth it. – Bloomberg

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.