By Marios Christodoulou
Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in the betting industry in the Republic of Cyprus. According to the records of the National Betting Authority (NBA), between 2016 and 2019, the total revenue from betting activities has increased by 286%, contributing approximately around 3.5% to the country’s GDP.
Betting activities in the Republic of Cyprus are regulated under the Betting Law L. 37(Ι)/2019. The Law imposes on licensed bookmakers, i.e. holders of Class A license (land-based betting) and Class B license (online betting), certain restrictions when it comes to advertising their services.
From the outset, it is worth remembering that the advertising of betting-related services is subject to certain statutory restrictions. Pursuant to the provisions of s.89 of the Law, any person advertising betting in a manner that:
(a) suggests that betting promotes or is related to social acceptance, personal or financial success, or the resolution of any personal, financial or social issues, or
(b) includes the endorsement of well-known personalities in a way that suggests that betting is related to their success, or
(c) is capable of influencing in any way, underaged persons to participate in betting activities or
(d) promotes the taking place of betting using services provided by a person not a licensed Class A or Class B bookmaker or authorised representative, or
(e) exceeds the limits of honesty and decency
is guilty of an offence.
The NBA, in its capacity as the competent supervisory authority tasked with ensuring compliance of licensed bookmakers with the provisions of the Law, has recently proceeded to issue a new Advertising Code, which takes into account recent technological advancements and developments in the field of advertising and marketing. In addition, in recognition of the growing influence of social networking sites as powerful advertising forums, the revised Advertising Code aims to facilitate the protection of the public (placing particular emphasis on the protection of minors and underaged persons) against the risk of exposure to unethical and illegal advertising and marketing practices.
In this respect, the Advertising Code, which came into force on July 1, 2021, seeks to ensure that the advertising of betting activities shall be characterised by a sense of social responsibility prioritising the adequate protection of underaged persons and other sensitive social groups.
It is worth noting that the Advertising Code applies not only to licensed entities but also to any person who enters into a contract with, or is in any way associated or represents or offers services for or on behalf of the licensed entity in respect of services subject to licensing by the NBA. Essentially, the Advertising Code serves as a rulebook, outlining not only the marketing and advertising activities which are prohibited but also the procedure for the granting of an approval
Any proposed advertising or marketing activity must be submitted to the NBA for review prior to its circulation or publication. Depending on the outcome of the review, the NBA may approve publication, prohibit publication, require that amendments be made or make comments. Falling afoul of these requirements may result in the imposition of fines by the NBA.
For the purpose of facilitating compliance with the stipulations of the Advertising Code the NBA will proceed to issue a Practical Guide which shall cover all issues relating to the Advertising Code, including, among others, the procedure for the submission of advertising plans and marketing activities, the maximum timeframe for the review of advertising plans by the NBA as well as advertising activities which may be exempt from the obligation of prior submission to the NBA.
The Advertising Code defines an “advertisement” as the announcement or unilateral transmission of information with a view of promoting betting services. Advertising plans must necessarily include details and information expressly stating the licensed entity’s identity, that the services comprising the subject-matter of the advertisement are licensed by the NBA, that the participation of underaged persons in betting activities is prohibited, and must also include a reference to the Safer Gambling webpage of the NBA www.safergambling.gov.cy.
Betting-related advertisements must be readily recognisable and distinct from any other content of any third person. In this respect, any person who publishes or incorporates in his content a betting-related advertisement shall not claim or imply that he is expressing an opinion as a consumer or expert; on the contrary he is under an obligation to clarify his relationship with the license holder and that the publication constitutes a paid advertisement.
The dissemination of advertising material by licensed entities to persons not registered as players is expressly prohibited, while several restrictions apply in respect to advertising material that can be sent to a registered player. Among others, licensed entities, may not proceed to send advertising material to registered players unless, it enables the player to elect not to receive such advertising material, it contains links relating to the protection of players and safer gambling.
The Advertising Code introduces a stricter regime in relation to the manner in which betting-related services are advertised through various mediums. More explicitly, there is a general prohibition on betting related advertisements which
(a) encourage the excessive and/or unrestrained betting activity,
(b) present the choice of abstinence from betting activities in a negative light,
(c) are untrue or misleading, especially with regards to information relating to winnings or the chances of the player to win,
(d) accept or encourage any person to violate the Law or to engage in antisocial behaviour,
(e) imply that skill plays a decisive role in predicting the outcome of future sporting events,
(f) suggest that the participation in betting activity may constitute a way out of financial worries, or solution instead of employment or means of financial security or means of financial investment,
(g) present participation in betting activity as priority or necessity in relation to other social or family relationships or obligations, such as friendly, professional, or academic,
(h) imply that participation in betting activity may offer a way out of professional, learning, or personal problems, such as loneliness or depression,
(i) present the participation in betting activity as a condition or means for successful social, friendly or professional relationships,
(j) present the participation in betting activity through a context of toughness or associates betting activity with endurance or dangerous or reckless behaviour,
(k) suggest that the participation in betting activity may enhance the player’s personal characteristics, such as his sense of self-respect, or his abilities, or suggests that betting constitutes a way to acquire control, superiority, power, recognition or admiration,
(l) exploit cultural convictions or traditions in respect of betting or chance,
(m) link the participation in betting activity with charm, sexual success, or enhancement of attractiveness,
(n) promote smoking and/or excessive consumption of alcoholic during participation in betting activity,
(o) present the participation in betting activity as acceptable or encourages the participation of betting activity in the work environment.
Unsurprisingly, in order to ensure the protection of children and underaged persons, the Advertising Code imposes certain prohibitions, placing particular emphasis on digital advertising and advertising through social networking sites. An underaged person is defined as any natural person below the age of eighteen, whilst “child” is defined as any natural person below the age of fifteen. In particular, digital advertisements which feature age-targeting must be adjusted in a way to preclude the targeting of underaged persons. Similarly, advertising through social networking sites must be made following the determination of appropriate age adjustments to prevent the targeting of underaged persons, and preventing, where reasonably possible, the projection of announcements, posts, notifications or any other content from the page of the licensed entity to the accounts of underaged persons.
Furthermore, the Advertising Code expressly prohibits the advertising of betting activities by any medium where such advertisements:
(a) encourage underaged persons and/or vulnerable persons to participate in betting activity;
(b) seeks to exploit the vulnerability, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or ignorance of underaged persons or other vulnerable persons;
(c) have particular appeal among underaged persons, especially where it reflects or relates to the culture of youngsters;
(d) represent persons behaving in an adolescent, childish or unorderly manner within licensed premises;
(e) are addressed to underaged persons via the choice of means of communication or the manner in which it is presented;
(f) include a person who is or appears to be below the age of twenty-five engaging in betting activity or playing a vital role in the advertisement.
Some restrictions and limitations also apply in respect of audio-visual and acoustic advertisements, in that such advertisements are prohibited unless a distinct reference is made to the existence of means of self-protection and safer gambling.
In so far as television advertisements are concerned, their duration may not exceed ninety seconds per television organization within any given clock hour. Advertisements through television and the radio are allowed to be broadcasted only within the time schedule determined by the competent authority and the Radio and Television Organizations Law L. 7(I)1998 as amended or repealed. The broadcasting of advertisements and program sponsorship is allowed during live sporting events, subject to compliance with the time schedule as aforesaid. In particular, the broadcasting of betting-related activities is permissible during live sporting events and for an interval of fifteen minutes prior to the beginning and after the ending of the sporting event. In any case, however, the broadcasting of betting-related advertisements immediately before and after, as well as during, kids shows, or shows addressed to children or shows appealing to children are prohibited.
For the purposes of the Advertising Code, “marketing activity” is defined as the offer of a player reward program or system provided by the licensed bookmaker, which entails or claims to entail some form of offer or benefit for the player. As is the case with advertising, all marketing activities are subject to the prior approval of the NBA.
The Advertising Code introduces a general requirement for marketing activities not to be misleading or unfair. This general requirement encompasses the obligation to ensure that marketing activities:
(a) are specific as to the extent of the player’s commitment in order to avail themselves of an offer or opportunity;
(b) do not omit or withhold material information or present these in an unclear, vague or ambiguous manner;
(c) provide all material information with sufficient emphasis, including the conditions relating to participation and deposit that the player must fulfil in order to benefit, and any other restriction or limitation.
(d) provide examples which state the conditions, requirements and restrictions using plain and intelligible language; and
(e) include terms and conditions relating to all material information relating to the marketing scheme and, provided that the player shall submit a confirmation that he has been informed with regards to such terms and conditions, remain available and accessible to the player.
A licensed bookmaker is obligated to ensure that players shall be informed in relation to their progress in the fulfilment of the conditions or requirements in order to benefit from an offer or opportunity immediately and at any time, whilst in case a player is disqualified from the scheme on the basis of the terms and conditions of the marketing activity he must be informed immediately with regards to any such disqualification.
With the exception of marketing activities relating to registration or deposits rewards, the advertisement of marketing activities requiring a player to place a bet within a specified timeframe (a) a minimum amount or (b) a number of bets is prohibited, except where such marketing activities take place in the licenced bookmakers premises or on the licensed bookmakers webpage.
It is a prerequisite that players provide a confirmation of acceptance of the terms and conditions of the marketing offer or opportunity before their induction into any marketing activity. In the event that a player agrees to participate in a marketing activity, the licensed bookmaker may only amend the terms and conditions of such marketing activity, provided that the amended terms are more favourable for the player, the licensed bookmaker informs the player with specificity and using examples all material amendments to the player and procures a new confirmation by the player on the revised terms and conditions.
The NBA is expected to issue a practical guide with regards to the Advertising Code, and also plans to organise seminars addressed to the various stakeholders for the purpose of analysing the provisions of the Advertising Code.
Marios Christodoulou is an advocate-legal consultant at A Karitzis & Associates LLC