As Spain Lockdown Lifts, Strict Rules for Gambling

With Spain lifting some of its austere lockdown measures, a new head of the DGOJ and ongoing anti-gambling legislation means a tightening grip on gambling. Though some gambling venues have been allowed to reactivate their iGaming content since the country eased its lockdown on May 16, many regulations persist, which include keeping brick-and-mortar casinos, betting shops, and arcades closed. Unsurprisingly, leading Spanish gaming operators are unhappy about the decision, with Cejuegos speaking out.

A sunny alleyway between restaurants in Fuengirola, Spain.

As regions across Spain lift lockdown restrictions, strict rules will stay for gambling. ©Tom Brunberg/Unsplash

As COVID Lockdown Began, A Crackdown on iGaming

When Spain entered strict lockdown in March of this year, following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the government went a step further than just closing public establishments, including casinos and betting houses. Beginning in March, some state-operated gambling offerings followed suit.

Leading the trend for bringing the lockdown to the iGaming sector, SELAE, Spain’s national lottery — a government-controlled program — ceased its ticket sales as early as March. By April, the government itself issued a number of additional legislations aiming to reduce iGaming advertising during the pandemic.

Spain’s Anti-Gambling Stance Continues During COVID

On March 31, the Spanish government issued Royal Decree article 37,11/2020, which further curtailed advertising from gambling companies during this pandemic. The new decree stipulates that gambling advertisements can only be shown between 1am and 5am, with no exceptions. Previously, exceptions were made for during sports matches.

A Government Reacts To iGaming Addiction in Real Time

According to some reporting, the decision to add additional gambling regulations during this time came after the the Dirección General de Ordinacíon de Juego (or DGOJ), Spain’s gambling regulatory body, publicly commented that there had been a reported uptick in iGaming activity during the country’s lockdown.

Included in the new coronavirus regulations on gambling were a stipulation that iGaming companies cannot reference certain benefits of their products in relation to the lockdown and public health crisis. For example, companies cannot frame their games as sources of calm or relief, and cannot offer special prizes as a balm in a hard time.

As Spain Begins to Reopen, Exceptions Made for Soccer

Likely the next sector of the gambling industry to reach regulation will be sports betting, as Spain’s beloved football club LaLiga received government approval to resume activities beginning June 8, 2020. As such, Rightlander, a company for gambling compliance, has been enlisted to assist the government to craft further regulations.

Local Companies Upset About Legislations

Unsurprisingly, gambling companies in Spain have been less than enthused about the ongoing crackdown on gambling advertisement, particularly as the coronavirus crisis has forced all brick-and-mortar gambling locations to close, as well as brought international sports (and sports betting) to a devastating halt.

Regulations in Spain vary across the entire country, but the majority of gambling establishments in the nation have had to stay closed. Alejandro Landaluce, the chief executive of Cejuego, has been vocal in his opposition to these rules, noting in particular the impossibility of running gambling venues at 50 percent capacity.

As he explained, many large gambling facilities like casinos and bingo halls, require big staffs. As such, it would be almost impossible to cater to guests without a certain number of employees, but too many employees means much fewer customers. Landaluce lamented what this means for the 47,000-odd Spaniards employed in the retail gambling industry.

Spain’s Ongoing Gambling Battle

In fact, gambling industry leaders in Spain were likely already on edge about the country’s gaming industry, even before the coronavirus pandemic reached the European country. Spain’s government has been consistently ramping up gambling regulation, ever since a series of nationwide protests in the fall of 2019.

The first sign of the crackdown to come came on the last day of 2019, when the joint parties of two of Spain’s leftist parties, Partido Socialista Obrera Espaõl (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and Unidos Podemos, filed a document 50 pages long detailing their desired plans to reform the gambling industry in Spain.

From the start of this year, Spain’s government has passed new regulations on the gambling industry at a brisk pace, with a new set of rules being unfurled every several weeks. The first set came in January, when the joint government parties opposed to gambling issued a six part set of regulations targeting gambling advertisement, among other things.

Next, in February, these rules were tightened and specified still further. Under current legislation in Spain, iGaming companies can only advertise within a four hour window, set intentionally to be when children and adolescents are unlikely to be watching. This strict regulation was criticized by JDigital chairman Mikel López de Torre.

A short time later, the regulations on gambling advertising went even further, effectively making about 80 percent of online gambling advertisements illegal once the rules are implemented this summer. The latest set of rules consist of 100 different elements, ranging from physical advertisements to celebrity endorsements and more.

Throughout Gambling Legislation, Shake-Ups on The Inside

To top off all of the major decision-making going on within Spain’s government in regards to gambling, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español and Unidos Podemos — the two parties responsible for crafting much of the initial legislation on gambling — did some rearranging within Spain’s government as to who controls the gambling industry.

Prior to February of this year, the supervising body of the Dirección General de Ordenación del Juego was controlled by the national Ministry of Finance. In Spain, the joint government parties elected to switch control of the DGOJ to the Consumer Affairs Ministry, a decision officials hope will mean shifted priorities towards customer safety.

Another change made was the replacement of Juan Espinosa García as head of the DGOJ. In January 2020, Espinosa García was moved to another position in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, and replaced by Mikel Arana. Espinosa García held his position as head of the DGOJ from January 2017 until January 2020.

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