Published: March 27, 2024

Musk’s X Slapped With €1.35M Fine by Italian Media Regulator Over Gambling Ads

The Italian Communications Regulatory Authority; Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM), has taken punitive measures against X (formerly Twitter) for violating gambling advertising regulations. The fine was announced in a press release, which revealed that the social media giant had breached Italy’s ban on gambling advertising as stipulated in Article 9 of the Dignity Decree.

According to the regulator, X was guilty of 9 violations perpetrated through nine X accounts, all of which held the blue check mark for verified accounts. According to the press release, the fine was imposed due to X’s failure to curb the continual use of the said accounts to post gambling advertisements.

Despite being presented with an opportunity to block all nine accounts during the company’s content review process, the company chose to block only seven, leaving two to continue posting content.

Consumer Protection and Gambling Advertising

In Article 9 of the Dignity Decree, which took effect on July 14, 2018, all forms of gambling advertising and sponsorships were banned, making it illegal to directly or indirectly post gambling ads on any media. This includes print media, TV and radio broadcasts, billboards, and the Internet.

The purpose of this legislative act was to ensure consumer protection, safeguarding users from potentially harmful and misleading content that could encourage pathological gambling.

Not AGMO’s First Crackdown on Digital Platforms

The regulations were revised in June 2023 to stay current with evolving technological needs. The authority made social media platforms culpable by controlling advertisements posted or streamed through their media. Thus, part of AGMO’s implementation plan is to monitor all such platforms for gambling ad violations.

So far, X is not the first of its kind to face the consequences once found in breach of the rules. In August 2022, Google was slapped with a €750,000 fine for allegedly showing gambling ads from Spike (a gaming operator) on its content creation platform, YouTube. While this was the highest fine ever imposed on any online platform, subsequent actions against Google, Twitch, and especially Meta have made the figure look meager.

In December 2023, Google again faced the axe by being smacked with a €2,250,000 fine, while Twitch was instructed to pay €900,000 in punitive damages. Meta was the worst hit as it was fined €5.85m and €750,000, respectively, for breaches of the gambling ads ban on its Facebook and Instagram platforms. The government’s close monitoring of online content has also placed some Italian media companies in hot soup as they have been struck with hefty fines rivaling those of the tech giants.

When the authority began imposing fines, AGCOM board member and Commissioner Elisa Giomi pointed out that it was quite a task to intervene against digital platforms as there was always the question of ‘editorial responsibility.’ She said in part:

“The Dignity Decree, however, makes it possible to consider directly responsible ‘the owners of the medium or site of diffusion or destination,’ such as Google with respect to YouTube. In this way, it allows us to counteract gambling addiction by any means possible. And we are delighted to have made our contribution.”

Continued Revamp of Gambling Laws Faces Scrutiny

The European Betting and Gaming Association (EGBA), Europe’s premier gambling industry trade body, has also voiced its opinion on the gambling ads ban. As EGBA sees it, the ban provides fodder for the illegal gambling sector, as Italian residents will not have a way of distinguishing between legit, licensed gaming providers and those from the black market. EGBA Secretary General Maarten Haijer had said:

“The country’s ban on advertising for licensed gambling operators is clearly favoring the black market…Without a sufficient level of advertising, there is no real way for Italians to tell the difference between a gambling website which is licensed in Italy – and applies the country’s consumer protection rules – and one that is not.”

 In a bid to control the market and keep consumers safe, more than 9,000 unlicensed gaming sites have been blocked by Italy’s Customs and Monopolies Agency (ADM). While this may seem promising, EGBA has highlighted that more sites are popping up every other day. This, therefore, makes it an uphill task for regulators to mitigate the damage caused by the gambling black market, which is currently generating over €1bn in illegal revenue.

The European gambling sector trade body recommends that the Italian authorities do more than just enforce strict consequences for the illegal gambling sector while enforcing gambling ads ban on legitimate gambling sites. According to EGBA, the Italian government should review its advertising rules to promote the correct information on licensed betting sites operating within the country.

 At the beginning of 2024, the Italian government, through the Ministry of the Economy and Finance, agreed to a revised decree that would see some significant changes to the sector since 2011 – when the online gambling industry was launched in the country. Whether the reorganization Decree would take into account appeals to soften the advertising regulations remains to be seen.

Future of Online Advertising Regulation

Italy’s firm stance on online content moderation by enforcing Article 9 of the Dignity Decree underscores the growing global efforts (more specifically in Europe) to hold digital platforms accountable for their content moderation practices. The importance of balancing the freedom of expression with the need to curb potentially harmful content online is evident in the Dignity Decree, as well as several Data Protection laws and acts across the continent. 

Many government authorities have been actively taking steps to keep their residents safe by calling for accountability and enforcing the necessary regulations to keep digital platforms and stakeholders in check. Seeing as gambling is a topic that has often raffled feathers in the European community, the latest development is a step in the right direction. Thus, it’s no surprise that authorities wouldn’t only develop regulations to safeguard vulnerable online users but also follow through with stipulated consequences regardless of whoever was involved.

© Public Gaming Research Institute. All rights reserved.