Gambling advertising ban– and the big winner is … Google!

image représentant une grille Loto

A few days ago, the Royal Decree severely limiting advertising for games of chance was published in the Belgian Official Gazette. As mentioned by “Pub” in its March 9 edition, this is a major step to limit the promotion of gambling and its addictions from July 2023! Transitional measures are planned to limit the impact for the professional sports world with increasingly restricted sponsorships until a complete shutdown in early 2028.

What impact for Belgian companies?

We can obviously understand the authorities wanting to limit the promotion of games of chance (casinos, sports betting, …) because addictions can lead to dramatic situations. Nevertheless, we must not forget the impact for the Belgian economy, because players of the casino and sports betting such as Betfirst, Ladbrokes, Unibet, Bet777, Circus, Versailles Casino, … spend very large amounts on sponsorships and advertising to publicise their offer.

We can list several potential impacts:

  • Reduced revenue for many football clubs such as Club Brugge, Antwerp or Sporting de Charleroi, which have as main sponsor one of the major actors in the sector. 15 of the 18 Division 1 clubs are sponsored by online betting companies! According to the CEO of the Pro League quoted by L’Echo, we estimate that 12% of the revenue will be impacted by the law. This is also the case in cycling teams (Bingoal or Circus) and in other sports.
  • Reduced revenue for many specialised sports sites that benefit from partnerships with actors, such as Betfirst or Unibet. The stakes are high for the IPM group (La Libre, L’Avenir, DH, LN24) which is the local operator of Betfirst. Their entity Sagevas (behind Betfirst) achieved an EBIT of more than €4M in 2021. The economic model will be destabilised by this decision. This is one example among others of the impact on the Belgian media.
  • Favouring illegal actors who will find ways to promote their services outside the Belgian legal framework. Such has been the case in other European markets in the past.
  • Potential gain for the National Lottery, which is not subject to the law on games of chance. Yet to be confirmed, but this distortion of competition raises questions, as RTBF mentioned last year in this article by Éric Boever. Note that their Scooore sports betting activity will be impacted by the new legislation from 1 July.

What potential strategy for Unibet, Betfirst, Ladbrokes …?

In sum, all the “push” promotion of their brands is doomed to disappear in the short term (July 2023) with the exception of sponsorship, which will run in professional sport until the end of 2027. What strategy to adopt, seeing these upcoming deadlines? We think there will be 3 main priorities:

  • Boost their sponsoring activity as much as possible while it is still possible in order to anchor their brand in the minds of potential consumers. This will be done in Belgium and also in other countries, through the sponsorship of cycling teams, football or other activities with a high media impact for international gambling players.
  • Increase customer relationship efforts to keep players on the one hand and to turn them into brand ambassadors. This will involve enriched sponsorship programs (Member Get Member).
  • Increase their efforts to ensure their visibility on search engines. The law regulates “push” advertisements to consumers but not advertisements at a time when consumers are actively looking for a game of chance, a sports betting site, … on search engines. The SEO and content marketing teams will therefore be boosted to be in the best positions by typing the most competitive queries (e.g., sports betting site, Champions League betting, …). This will also be the case on Search ads on Google & Bing. The competition is already stiff and will stiffen even more! Marketing budgets will therefore be abandoned by local actors (sponsorships, media) and concentrated on 2 global players!

As Google’s First Partner, we are best placed to seize these opportunities in this changing legislative environment. Universem’s teams of experts in SEO, Content Marketing and Search Engine Advertising are on the ball to devise advanced strategies and start preparing the future of marketing for gambling players now.

The politicians’ intention to limit the promotion of sports betting actors is laudable and necessary to counter the evils related to addiction. But will the ban on advertising be enough? The impact on the Belgian economy is significant – and has it been sufficiently weighed in the balance? Google emerges strengthened and wins from this new legislation. Not quite what the legislators anticipated!