Close-Up: Live Issue - Will gambling ads be good for adland?

The laws on gambling advertising are about to be relaxed, will adland benefit, Kate Nettleton asks.

The Gambling Act 2005 comes into force on 1 September, and marks the dawn of a new era for advertising. The act repeals three key pieces of legislation: the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. Together, they have tied the hands of gambling brands since the 60s.

This liberalisation should allow any licensed gambling and betting operator to advertise on television for the first time; and it relaxes the rules for non-broadcast media, where they were previously limited to classified advertising only.

But the Government has already started to chip away at these new freedoms by introducing measures to restrict the leniency of the law.

James Purnell, the culture secretary, announced last month that a 9pm watershed should be imposed on TV gambling ads, forcing the Gambling Commission to introduce a "voluntary" code to implement these restrictions.

The Committee of Advertising Practice has also produced a code limiting the new freedoms. It says gambling advertising must not encourage socially irresponsible behaviour, link gambling to sexual success or exploit children.

And it doesn't end there. The Government is also due to produce a list of blacklisted gambling providers that are based in offshore jurisdictions and won't be able to advertise. This is likely to exclude some major players in the UK industry, whose businesses are based in regions such as the Caribbean.

But navigating this web of restrictions may well prove rewarding, given the potential financial benefits. Early estimates on gaming adspend are as high as £350 million, with media owners also set to profit. "It's a positive thing from our point of view," Garry Digby, the managing director of customer relations at ITV, says. "It opens up additional revenue streams."

The market also poses an interesting creative challenge. As Leon Jaume, the executive creative director at WCRS, points out, agencies with gambling clients will have to produce work that counteracts the image of the gambling industry as loud and reprehensible.

An agency chief with a gambling client on his books adds: "It's a sector that wasn't touched by serious agencies. Now there are some big players involved, there will be some great work."

But with pressure groups, the media and the Government eager to point the finger at adland for the degradation of society, many agree this uninvited deregulation of gambling advertising is going to fuel the industry's image crisis.

"Gambling could face the 'alcohol syndrome', where blame for a deep-rooted social problem is placed unjustifiably at the door of the advertising industry," Giles Hedger, the chairman of the IPA's Ethcom Group, says.

The legislation does raise a few concerns for adland. Giles Crown, a partner at Lewis Silkin, warns: "If the industry fails to embrace the new rules, the Government is likely to step in with further unpalatable statutory measures."

However, that might not be necessary. The legislation contains a calculated exclusion for Northern Ireland, which leaves the region subject to its own regulations. The exclusion prohibits the invitation to consumers to "subscribe for money or money's worth".

By doing this, the Government has made sure gambling companies cannot show ads on the many channels unable to limit their broadcast to specific areas in the UK.

CREATIVE CHIEF - Leon Jaume, executive creative director, WCRS

"If the time-honoured method in which racecourse bookies shout their odds is anything to go by, gambling advertising will be loud, unsubtle and dressed just like Robin Wight.

"But it is also an opportunity for a canny operator to behave less raucously and not only inveigle its way into punters' hearts, but also their wallets.

"I can vouch for the efficacy of this approach. Many years ago, a private bookmaker won my custom by saying to me: 'You know you're going to lose. And we know you're going to lose. We just make it a more pleasant experience than anyone else.'"

AGENCY HEAD - Bruce Haines, chief executive, Leo Burnett

"It's a good move. I've always been of the view that the advertising industry should be reflective of society, and there are plenty that find gambling a pleasurable pastime. The world is not full of people who get into financial trouble because of it.

"We're the best-regulated advertising market on earth, so I'm sure the work that ad agencies produce will be honest, truthful and decent.

"What the industry should avoid doing is making this a special case. To my mind, it's just another service, and another lot of brand owners who have access to TV. They need to be responsible when dealing with a subject matter that can be tricky."

LAWYER - Giles Crown, partner, media brands and technology, Lewis Silkin

"The deregulation of gambling should be good for adland. The Committee of Advertising Practice anticipates a surge in new advertising relating to gambling, and the opening up of TV advertising for the first time has got to be a big opportunity.

"It's a relief that the hotchpotch of existing laws regulating the advertising of gaming, betting and lotteries will be swept away. The new rules,at least, are easier to understand and follow.

"While the old laws were rarely enforced, the Gambling Commission will now be more proactive in chasing down anyone who ignores the new rules. A few early prosecutions to show it is serious should be expected."

WATCHDOG - Giles Hedger, chairman, IPA Ethcom Group

"The situation is unusual. None of the precedents for curtailment can be meaningfully applied, because the freedom to advertise gambling is one that has been granted by the Government, not one that has been fought for by the advertising community.

"Some agencies stand to benefit from the relaxation. But, to date, more time and energy has gone into the creation of advertising code to protect young people, than has gone into the creation of famous advertising in this market.

"Where the freedom itself is unrequested, and where adland as a whole is ambivalent, proper time and thought need to be given to the long-term future. The industry needs to pause and form a view."