Is Online Gaming The Next Tobacco?

As offshore online gambling clients try to attract U.S. agencies, they may find fewer players then they imagined. The latest gambling client to launch a review here in the U.S., Belle Rock Gaming, will not be meeting with any Omnicom agencies, for starters.

Online gambling, deemed illegal in the U.S., is shrouded in legal uncertanties for shops, prompting many to pass on advertisers waving millions of dollars at them.

“To the extent companies want to pursue such business [online gambling], we’re telling them they can’t,” said an Omnicom rep.

Omnicom’s Integer in Denver and Zimmerman & Partners in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were tapped as finalists in Belle Rock’s $20 million offline review, being run by AAR Partners in New York. But sources said it was unlikely that either shop would move foward, leaving Interpublic Group’s Avrett Free Ginsberg in New York and Havas’ Euro RSCG in Chicago as contenders.

It is said that IPG is leaving such new business decisions up to its shops. In fact, Belle Rock is the second online gambling client AFG has pursued. A WPP agency executive said he is not aware of a holding company policy against pursuing online gambling business, but said his agency would not participate because of the legal doubts.

Online gambling is illegal in the United States, and while the Department of Justice has made it plain that media outlets are barred from accepting ads for gambling sites, it has left interpretation of the law as it applies to ad agencies up to corporate counsels.

“The whole thing fell apart over the legal question,” said Mark DiMassimo, creative director of New York independent DiMassimo, who decided not to pursue the business.

One executive likened the agencies’ resistance to online gambling to that of tobacco-related accounts.