Internet giant Google is set to come under investigation from the Italian Federal Communications and Advertising Authority (AGCOM) according to reports from Italy this week. The investigation will seek to determine whether Google has been in breach of the country’s online gambling ad ban.

The company’s subsidiary operators Google Ireland Limited, Google Inc and Google Italy are all set to come under the microscope, following evidence that adverts for foreign operators were appearing in Italian search results.

The Lega-5Star government in Italy has brought in a complete ban on all forms of marketing related to betting and gambling, including affliliate marketing, sponsorships and promotions. In response to the hardening stance of the Italian government, Google announced back in 2018 that it was intent on removing all gambling-related services and content from Italian search results.

At the time of the Decree’s introduction, Deputy Minister Luigi Di Maio was quoted as saying that the rules were to protect Italians from the potential harms associated with gambling, and that they were supported by all political groups and businesses.

The investigation by AGCOM will specifically be looking at whether the adverts are a breach of Article 9 in the country’s Dignity Decree. The ban on gambling marketing applies in cases where foreign gambling operators are placed at the top of a search through promotions.

The investigation marks an interesting departure for AGCOM. Much of their effort in enforcing the gambling ban so far has related to bonus offers, which the law regards as a type of advertising.

Many expected that AGCOM might not seek to take action against Google. But in pushing ahead with the investigation, it has shown a willingness to take on one of the world’s biggest online operators.

The development may also reflect some changes to the AGCOM leadership. Earlier this year, Giacomo Lasorella took over as the new President. He wasted no time in clarifying that he intended to take a tougher approach in ensuring that the gambling advertising laws are enforced. His appointment was also a clear message to senior executives, football clubs and others, who have spoken out against the gambling ban in recent months. Although many of these stakeholders have pushed hard for a review of the law, it seems that the government and AGCOM are instead doubling down.  

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