Mikel Arana, DGOJ: Spain ends its conflict of interest between football and bookmakers

Mikel Arana, the new Director-General of Spain’s DGOJ, has defended the government for revising the mandate of the approved ‘Royal Decree on Advertising’, which adds further market restrictions and controls on gambling.

Speaking to Spanish newspaper El Diario, Arana held his first interview since taking leadership of the DGOJ after replacing long-term incumbent Juan Espinosa as Director-General on 5 May.

Last week, a European Commission filing revealed that the Spanish government had drafted a series of new amendments to its approved Royal Decree on Advertising, banning betting sponsorships across all professional sports leagues.

Sanctioned by Spain’s Consumer Affairs Ministry, the changes will see Spain adopt a near blanket ban on the advertising and marketing of gambling products, in which sports will not be exempted from the Royal Decree’s remit.

Further changes saw the Consumer Affairs Ministry recommend the blanket withdrawal of welcome bonuses as a marketing incentive – an order that had been temporarily imposed on licensed operators during Spain’s national lockdown.

Questioned on why the Royal Decree had been radically altered following its February approval, Arana said that the government’s actions simply reflected the ‘social alarm’ in Spanish politics and society related to the overexposure of gambling advertising witnessed across media and sports.

In his response, Arana noted that temporary advertising restrictions under lockdown had seen Spain ‘avoid a situation in which all objective elements pointed to an increase in gambling’.

Adding that the temporary orders had protected 18-21-year-old consumers from problematic consumption’, he stated that the DGOJ approved of new measures being transferred to the Royal Decree.

Leading a new era for the DGOJ, Arana said that the agency prioritised the protection of young consumers as a core objective, branding the new amendments as ‘logical step in decreasing advertising exposure and prohibiting welcome bonuses, which are largely the gateway for new players’.

Probed on potential media and sports disruptions, Arana underlined that Spanish clubs and media owners had been forewarned of likely changes, as the restructuring of Spain’s federal advertising laws had been an agenda for former Spanish governments.

Arana confirmed that the government had chosen to not to consult or publish any prior details of Decree amendments with Spanish football clubs reemerging from a three-month lockdown.

Questioned on whether the government had removed a vital revenue stream for Spanish football clubs, Arana issued a stern response to Decree critics.

He said: “I would ask football clubs why they don’t see a conflict of interest in bookmakers sponsoring sports competitions? This conflict is obvious, in the same way, that athletes cannot place bets on their sports competitions. It is so evident that it does not hold even 30 seconds of discussion.”

The DGOJ leader also responded to the ‘whirlwind of criticism’ by Spanish betting leadership, who felt victimised as no advertising restrictions had been imposed on Spanish national lottery operators ONCE and SELAE.

Arana retorted: “This is not a matter of favourable treatment. The Decree will develop and strengthen Spain’s Gambling Law, which defines the operating conditions for different types of games and operators….its as simple as that.

“The Gambling Law holds a statutory reservation exclusively for ONCE and SELAE, marking key differences between them and for-profit operators. Do we treat them differently, yes clearly as it’s the law that forces us to make a distinction.”

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