New Gaming Regulations for Spain

Following outcry in 2019, Spain’s government has set strict gaming laws for the country. The new laws come in the hopes of promoting responsible gaming and reducing the risk of addictive behavior for gaming enthusiasts.

Two houses of cards stand behind a number of colorful dice.

Though the gambling industry has been extremely lucrative in Spain, many are worried about the dangers it poses to underage gamblers at risk of developing an addiction. ©5598375/Pixabay

Six-Part Regulations from Spain’s Coalition Government

Spain’s new gaming laws come as a joint project of the country’s coalition government, a collaboration between the parties Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in English, or PSOE) and Unidos Podemos, another left-wing party in Spain. The new laws come, as the parties have announced, from “urgent regulation of gambling to prevent and curb gambling.”

The law contains six parts and is partially inspired by regulations established by Spain in 2005 to better regulate the tobacco industry. The laws considering tobacco regulation specifically consider the dangers of tobacco advertising, so — similarly — Spain’s new gambling laws will be at least in part looking to better and more safely monitor how the gaming industry is marketed to the public, particularly to minors.

The concern for the safety of underage gamers at risk of developing unhealthy gaming habits has also been addressed in the law by another stipulation: ensuring that gaming establishments will not be located too close to schools.

In addition to thinking about how to regulate the advertisement of gambling in Spain, the new laws stipulate that brick-and-mortar locations for gambling in the country will have to post signs outside about the dangers of gambling — similar to how European cigarette packs have warnings about the health risks of smoking.

Similarly, venues where players can access gambling will not be open before 10 pm, and will have to pay administration fees to the government of Spain. The government sees these fees as potentially being lucrative, and valuable, sources of revenue for essential projects directed towards gaming industry management, specifically “preventive, awareness, intervention and control initiatives, as well as to repair the negative effects produced by the game activity.”

Government officials believe that these new laws will inform previously unknowing merchants who offered gaming to their customers. In so doing, they will rectify what they (and many others in Spain) see as being a quick-spreading problem of gaming addiction in the country.

More broadly, Spain’s new laws hope to promote “healthy consumption practices and to prevent, anticipate or identify the generation of problematic game patterns.”

These regulations come just a few weeks after Spain’s government decided at the close of 2019 to consider gambling addiction a mental illness. The severity of Spain’s new gambling regulations sets it apart from many other countries, who have yet to catch up to the nuances of the dual economic prosperity and risk of addiction in contemporary iGaming.

A set of white hands are handcuffed to a Mac computer keypad.

According to a study, up to 1 in 5 teens in Spain are addicted to online gaming. ©lechenie-narkomanii/Pixabay

A Response to A Rallying Cry from Spain’s Citizens

The regulations come several months after a series of protests across Spain addressing the exponential upswing in problem gambling in the country.

In a number of cross-country protests in Spain in October 2019, protestors responded to the rapid growth of gaming in Spain: in just five years (2012-2017), the gaming industry in Spain bloomed close to 400%. In Madrid, which hosted the country’s largest anti-gaming rally, the number of gaming houses had swelled 300%, with 40 new brick-and-mortar gambling locations across many of Madrid’s working-class neighborhoods.

Protestors across the country were particularly aggrieved by what they saw as the gaming industry’s targeting of some of its most vulnerable customers: minors. Because no laws had yet been established regulating age verification or the proximity of gambling houses to schools, many in the country were concerned about the rapid uptick in problem gambling among Spain’s youth.

According to Spain’s Federation of Rehabilitated Gamblers and the Association of Psychologists in Madrid, 1 in 5 teenagers in Spain is addicted to gambling. If these numbers are factually accurate, this statistic makes the number of problem underage gamblers in Spain greater than in any other European country.

In a report conducted by El País, a policeman in Madrid, Tomás Calamarado, noted that — at the time — adding to the threat to underage gamers in Spain was the lack of regulations on gambling advertisements. Said Calamarado,

“[gambling companies] show … ads during the morning children’s slot and at all times of day.”

With these new regulations, which will target the concerns of Spain’s protestors who worried about the proximity of gaming houses to schools and about the unrestricted access to vulnerable viewers through television advertising allowed to gambling companies, many hope that the threat to potential gaming addicts — particularly minors — will be addressed in these new regulations.

Not Going To Be a Hit with Industry Officials

While the new regulations from two of Spain’s left-wing government parties may land well with concerned parents, others in the country are likely to be less satisfied with the new regulations.

Discussion about the possibility of regulation in the gaming industry in Spain has been going on for several years now, and when conversation arose on the topic in 2018, director of CeJuego Alejandro Landaluce criticized gaming opponents, saying that the prospective legislation at the time indicated “a lack of knowledge about the sector.”

What’s more, Landaluce took issue with the statistics being referenced by gaming opponents. According to his statistics, Spain actually has “the lowest rate of problem gambling in the world” — a vast difference from the statistic suggesting close to exactly the opposite (referenced above, that 1 in 5 teens in Spain is addicted to gambling, making it the highest rate of underage gambling addiction of any country in Europe).

Landaluce went on to address this statistic in particular, saying that in comparison, 18% of young people in Spain are addicted to the Internet, and 7% of the country’s adults are addicted to online shopping — compared to, as he said, just 0.3% of Spain’s population is addicted to gambling.

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