ROME: Italy’s council of ministers has upset the professional football establishment by approving a blanket ban on gambling advertising in the country from next January 1, 2019.
Some last-minute changes were made to the ‘Dignity Decree’, allowing advertisers with existing agreements that stretch beyond New Year’s Day next year to be granted a concession to fulfil their contracts, and excluding the state-run national lottery or its products.

The ban will apply to all gambling-related products and services across all media platforms – including television, websites and radio – and sports clubs will also be prohibited from carrying sponsors from the industry.

Heavy fines are being introduced for non-compliance, at a minimum of €50,000, with the fines being donated to the fund against pathological gambling.

The ban was authored on July 2 by Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) which became the largest party in Italy’s coalition government earlier this year. The party has swept to power from obscurity less than a decade ago on the back of a string of radical reform proposals.

The deputy prime minister has previously said that he will lobby for the introduction of broader gambling advertising restrictions across the European Union.

The new decree has been met with dismay by trade associations representing the different parts of the gambling industry, including football clubs.

Serie A expressed “extreme worry” on Tuesday with regard to the new ban. The league said in a statement that the new rules would create disparity with other European countries and would bring ‘competitive disadvantages to Italian [soccer] clubs, diverting abroad advertising budgets aimed [Italian] teams’.

More than half of the clubs in Serie A have sponsorship deals in place with firms from the sector. The league estimated that the ban would represent a loss of some €700 million to the state coffers.

In a recent open letter to Di Maio, Italian-licensed gambling operator LeoVegas warned that the ad ban would not achieve a significant reduction in problem gambling activity, as it will lead to a surge in advertising by gambling operators not holding Italian licences.

It encouraged the coalition to “revise” its proposal to address the issue of problem gambling “without populist slogans and action.”