Google had already started receiving condemnation when it began to allow gambling ads for British customers on its Adwords product in October 2008. The condemnation was all the more severe because Google had put in place a self imposed global ban on gambling advertisements in 2004. Last week the pressure on Google went one step further. The Telegraph reported that 40 British Members of Parliament had signed an early day motion calling upon Google to stop displaying gambling advertisements on its online portal.

The motion was moved by Khalid Mahmood, who is the Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Perry Barr. The motion noted concern over Google’s decision to reintroduce advertisements from online gambling companies, pointing out that the move has coincided with the economic downturn. The implicit insinuation is that Google overturned its policy in order to unlock a revenue stream to meet ends in hard times. This was done despite the threats it posed to the society at large. The motion also referred to the stand taken by the Church of England on this issue. The Church had said that the dangers of gambling are far greater in difficult economic times. The “fantasy of instant wealth” lures people into staking their savings, the loss of which is more harmful when financial uncertainties prevail. Finally the motion called on “…Google to review its policy in line with its own obligations on corporate social responsibility.”

Google has denied the accusations. James Cashmore of Google has pointed out that the decision to allow gambling ads was taken to make its services “consistent with local business practices”. The reference is obviously to the new gambling law in the United Kingdom that allows gambling operators to advertise in the media, including in print and on television. The condemnation of Google for doing the same highlights the double standards of the legislators. Cashmore added that Google has taken measures to demonstrate that the gambling advertisements will be handled in a responsible manner. Advertisements will be accepted from only properly licensed gambling operators. The advertisements will be classified as ‘Non-Family Safe’ and hence will be filtered out by the Safe Search filter. Advertisements will be accepted from only those operators who display links to gambling charities such as GamCare on their websites.

Unfortunately for Google the decision to allow gambling advertisements in Britain has been ill timed. As mentioned earlier, it has coincided with the economic downturn. It also coincided with the receiving of royal approval from the Queen. And to make things worse it was taken a day after GamCare released statistics that showed that the number of people seeking help for problem gambling had increased by 25%. The gambling operators, however, are taking full advantage of Google’s decision. It has been estimated that advertisements on Google will generate gambling revenues to the tune of £100 million to £300 million.