If the European Commission has its way, online gambling ads will have to feature health warnings.

The European Commission has suggested health warnings become a part of online gambling advertisements. (Image: safetyatworkblog.com)

These days, everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous warnings found on packages of cigarettes. They’re a little different from country to country, but they remind consumers of the well-known health problems that can occur because of smoking every time they look at a pack.

Now, the European Commission wants to see those warnings expanded to a new area: online gambling. The commission will ask countries to in turn request that Internet gaming advertisements come with warning messages that explain the risks of gambling to viewers.

Recommendations Not Binding

The recommendation, reportedly part of a draft document that was seen by Reuters, comes as the European Union is expected to recommend tighter controls on the online gambling industry this week. None of these recommendations would be legally binding, but they could be taken to heart by some nations, especially those that were already considering tighter rules in the sector.

The recommendations suggest warnings about several aspects of gambling. For instance, advertisements might mention the odds of winning or losing, contain information on how to get assistance for problem gambling, or talk about the risk of becoming addicted. The EU also recommends a ban on Internet gambling companies acting as sponsors for events that are targeted at minors.

According to the European Commission, there were 6.8 million online gamblers in the EU as of 2011. The industry is said to be growing by 15 percent a year there, making it the fastest growing service activity in Europe. The industry is said to be worth $14.3 billion in total.

The EU isn’t the only one thinking about putting restrictions and regulations on online gambling advertisements. Italy considered banning such ads on television in radio, and ultimately passed a law that will put restriction on such ads in the future.

Gambling Advertisements Face Scrutiny

The suggestions come at a time when gambling firms have been under scrutiny for both land-based and online activities. And with the World Cup being one of the biggest revenue streams for bookmakers around the world, firms have been particularly criticized for some of the advertisements they’ve produced to promote betting on the tournament.

For instance, Irish betting firm Paddy Power drew fire last month after they changed 20 of their storefront signs to read Pelepower in an attempt to capitalize on the name of Pele, Brazil’s legendary soccer hero. Pele’s lawyers quickly sent a cease-and-desist order, and Paddy Power took down the signs. They also drew fire for using a fake image of a stripped Amazon rainforest with the message “c’mon England – PP” carved into the ground, and only revealed the photo was photoshopped after days of controversy.

Other companies were in trouble for misusing the Christ the Redeemer statue in advertisements. In Australia, Sportsbet.com.au flew a giant balloon version of the statue over Melbourne, complete with an Australian jersey and their logo. In the UK, evangelicals were upset after City AM published a gambling ad that showed Christ the Redeemer with bikini-wearing models and holding a bottle of alcohol along with the message “There’s a more exciting side to Brazil.”

Bookmakers in the UK such as William Hill have also faced criticism for their practices, particularly over their use of fixed-odds betting terminals. Critics say the machines prey on gambling addicts, and recent legal changes have resulted in increased taxes on the games.