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Kevin Smith

Sportingbet Chairman Calls Provocative Ad Campaign a Success

5 June 2002

When Sportingbet, a U.K.-based bookmaking firm, took out full-page advertisements in some of the United States' most influential newspapers pleading with the government to tax the interactive gambling industry, and essentially make it legal in the United States, its goal was simple: Get a dialogue started.

While the ads ran, Rep. Robert Goodlatte's, R-Va., Internet gambling prohibition bill was awaiting markup in the Judiciary Committee. Nearly three weeks after the advertisements hit the Washington Post and other publications, the campaign appears to be a rousing success.

"This isn't just a five-minute wonder for us."

-Mark Blandford

The focus of the campaign was to point out the potential tax revenue that would be generated for the country if the industry was regulated.

Mark Blandford, chairman of Sportingbet, said he hasn't heard directly from Goodlatte, or any congressmen amid the prohibition camp, but he did say the advertisement brought out some interesting insight into Goodlatte's view on the industry.

A handful of media outlets asked Goodlatte to comment on the ad and on Sportingbet in general, and Blandford said the responses were somewhat positive. Goodlatte said he doesn't have problems with companies that are properly regulated, which Sportingbet is, Blandford pointed out.

"I thought that was an interesting take," Blandford said. "Previously his comments have been aimed at the Caribbean operator, which for all intense purposes is unregulated."

If that kind of response wasn't enough to consider the advertisement campaign a success, Blandford said numerous congressmen who were previously neutral on I-gambling are now leaning toward regulating it and reaping the tax benefits instead of prohibiting it.

Shortly after the ads ran, Blandford and a team of his executives spent a couple of days in Washington meeting with politicians on both sides of the issue to discuss the new approach.

Blandford said his time in Washington was well spent.

"Those who were in the middle of the argument welcomed our meetings," he said. "Those who were already opposed to Goodlatte welcomed the extra ammunition in terms of the information."

Meetings focused more than on just the advertisement too, according to Blandford. He said politicians were shown ways the industry can be regulated once laws are in place and the practical ways in which underage gambling, money laundering and problem gambling can be addressed.

"I am greatly encouraged by both the level of interest and by the support we were able to give to those who are opposed to Goodlatte," he said.

The campaign also caught the attention of the mainstream media in the States. Blandford said producers with the popular MSNBC program Hardball are trying to arrange a segment with Blandford and an advocate of prohibition debating over the best way to handle the industry. It hasn't happened, Blandford said, because the network has had little luck finding someone to go head-to-head with him.

Another unintended positive from the publishing of the advertisements is the surprising number of states that have contacted Sportingbet seeking more information on the safeguards and how the industry could increase general revenue funds with tax payments.

The timing of the ad couldn't have been better, Blandford said, with a number of states dealing with budget shortfalls.

Blandford feels the impressive amount of positive responses to the campaign from both policy makers and media outlets is due in large part to raising a new point about regulating the industry. He said in the past no one effectively conveyed, in hard numbers, what the potential was for tax revenue from online gamine operators.

"I think we hit the spot on that one," he said. "The follow-up will go on for some time. This isn't just a five-minute wonder for us. We will be following up with further information, more meetings, and maybe even bring some of them over and see how our system works and how it is regulated."

The Goodlatte bill has yet to have been marked up by the Judiciary Committee despite numerous attempts to get it done. Today Goodlatte pulled the bill from the schedule for Thursday's markup session.

Sportingbet Chairman Calls Provocative Ad Campaign a Success is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith