Editorial: Gambling ad rules have to be rigorously policed

With little more than a week to go before the removal of virtually all restrictions on gambling advertising, the ad industry finds itself facing a familiar dilemma. Should agencies behave like lawyers and offer the best possible advocacy for their clients, irrespective of their personal views?

In the past, the industry always adhered to the idea that if a product was legally manufactured and sold, then it should be legal to promote it. Tobacco advertising made this argument almost impossible to sustain. There is still no law banning the manufacture and sale of fags, yet they're still linked to fatal diseases. Promoting cigarettes was finally banned because a majority believed tobacco ads to be immoral.

Gambling throws up a similar conundrum. And one not helped by the Government's schizophrenic approach to gambling deregulation. While it likes the idea of the Treasury's coffers being filled by the extra revenue drawn from betting shops, casinos and online gaming operators, it is still nervous about feeding gambling addictions.

Gordon Brown has adopted a more cautious line by drawing back from the idea of allowing super-casinos to regenerate run-down areas. But this will not keep adland out of the firing line. It will be seen as an easy target for those fearful about creating a new generation of gambling junkies.

The Committee of Advertising Practice has drawn up a stringent set of rules to stop gambling promotion getting out of hand. This is vital because the gambling industry represents a significant source of extra income for agencies. A conservative estimate suggests gambling will be backed by an adspend of at least £100 million a year. And if an expensive TV campaign by one gaming operator leads to others piling in, the figure is projected to go as high as £350 million.

But previous experience suggests that even the most Draconian codes don't stop unwelcome PR. If a few rogue ads do creep under the wire, you can imagine the headlines.

It's vital that the codes are strongly enforced, and that gambling operators and their agencies don't take liberties.