Italy’s Media Watchdog Slaps Google Ireland With Reported €100k Gambling Ad Fine

  • Google Ireland faces a reported $118,250 penalty for breaching Italy’s gambling ad ban
  • It allowed a paid advert linking to sublimecasino.com to appear on its search results pages
  • AgCOM launched a September investigation into three Google companies for advert violations 
  • Dignity Decree came into effect in January 2019 to help combat Italy’s problem betting
Google Ads logo appears on smartphone
Italian media regulator AgCOM announced Thursday that it had fined Google Ireland for breaching the country’s restrictions on gambling advertising. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Paid advert appeared in Google search results

Italy’s communications regulator Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AgCOM) announced Thursday that it had fined Google Ireland Limited for breaching the country’s Dignity Decree prohibition on gambling advertising.

The media watchdog did not publish the amount of the financial penalty given to Google Ireland, which operates the Google Ads service. According to Reuters, a well-placed source said the sum was around €100,000 ($118,250).

In a tweet including a link to its official statement, AgCOM said Google was guilty of “violating the rules on advertising of games and betting”:

AgCOM’s statement explained that the google.com search engine had allowed a paid advert, linking to France-facing gambling site sublimecasino.com, to appear in its search results.

Google was one of the first global companies to announce its intention to comply with Italy’s Dignity Decree. At the time, Google said: “Starting July 16, 2018, only state lotteries with deferred drawing will be allowed to run gambling advertisements in Italy.”

Result of an investigation

AgCOM’s issuing of the fine follows a September 2020 announcement that the body would be investigating three Google companies for gambling ad ban violations. These were namely Google Inc., Google Italy, and yesterday’s penalized party, Google Ireland Limited.

search engine was “in no case” acting as a mere hosting service

AgCOM stated on Thursday that, because sublimecasino.com had paid for an advert, its ranking on Google meant that the search engine was “in no case” acting as a mere hosting service. The regulator concluded that, ultimately, the main service provided by Google was “instead aimed at the direct promotion of bets and paid games.” It added that such activity is “expressly prohibited by national law”, as established under the Dignity Decree.

In surmising the reasons for the fine, AgCOM also cited Regulation (EU) 2019/1150, which promotes “fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services.” The main purpose of the EU’s peer-to-business (P2B) regulation is to ensure the transparency of commercial relationships between online platforms, which include search engines such as Google, and business users.

Decree to combat Italy’s problem betting

The Italian parliament passed the Dignity Decree in August 2018. It was Luigi Di Maio – currently Italy’s Foreign Affairs Minister – who proposed the measure, which came into effect in January 2019. Devised to combat Italy’s problem betting, the decree banned almost all forms of gambling advertising and sports sponsorships for gambling companies.

Locally licensed operators at the time warned that the decree would cause non-Italian gambling operators to rise up the Google search rankings at the expense of licensed Italian operators. This is precisely what ensued.

LeoVegas, an operator licensed in Italy, said the decree didn’t even make logical sense. Since the government legalized online gambling, the operator reasoned, surely that meant it thought it a totally acceptable activity for Italians, rather than an ominous threat to the national way of life. The contradiction did not sync with an ad ban that hurt legal, licensed businesses, LeoVegas argued.