12 May, 2023

Sports betting ads: Frank DiGiacomo describes the US' battle for control

Frank DiGiacomo, Partner and Team Lead of Duane Morris’ Gaming Industry Group, discusses sports betting advertising – and how state regulators are grappling to place controls on the industry .

Sports betting operator advertising practices have recently become a topic of increasing scrutiny and emphasis by US gaming/sports wagering regulators. As the popularity of sports betting continues to grow, and as more jurisdictions have legalised online sports wagering, state regulators have raised concerns about the impact that advertising can have on vulnerable individuals; such as problem gamblers and persons younger than the legal gambling age. To address these concerns, a number of state regulators have taken action to restrict sports betting advertising.

While the debate on advertising is not a state‑specific one, sports wagering is now legal in over 35 states, thus the impact of sports betting advertising has become a national issue. This debate has been raised by regulators  in states that have not only recently enacted online sports wagering – such as Massachusetts and Ohio – but also by more experienced states regulators, such as New Jersey.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) recently published new best practices for gaming and sports betting advertising. These best practices are designed both to promote responsible advertising by sports betting operators and to protect consumers from misleading or deceptive advertising practices. The NJDGE’s advertising standards focus on four areas: (1) responsible gaming disclosures; (2) advertising content; (3) advertising placement; and (4) advertising training.

  • Responsible Gaming Disclosures – Sports betting operators are encouraged to promote responsible gambling practices in their advertising. This includes providing information on how to gamble responsibly, setting limits on betting activity, promoting self-exclusion programs and providing contact options such as the 1-800-GAMBLER hotline.
  • Advertising Content – Sports betting operators must ensure their advertising is clear, truthful and not misleading. This includes providing accurate information on odds, payouts and other relevant information. Sports betting operators must also clearly disclose all terms and conditions associated with their promotions, bonuses and other offers. This includes information on any wagering requirements, expiration dates and other relevant details.
  • Advertising Placement – Sports betting operators should avoid targeting vulnerable populations. Operators are advised to avoid targeting vulnerable populations, such as minors or individuals with gambling addiction.
  • Advertising Training – Sports betting operators must maintain accurate records of their advertising activities, including copies of all advertisements and promotions. These records must be made available to the NJDGE upon request.

Other state regulators are also taking a more proactive approach to preventing problem gambling. For example, in Michigan, sports betting operators are required to offer customers the options to either set betting limits, self-exclude or seek professional help if they are experiencing gambling problems. Similarly, in Illinois, sports betting operators must offer customers the ability to self-exclude and must also provide resources for individuals seeking help with problem gambling.

Despite this recent focus by state regulators, some critics argue that these restrictions do not go far enough. In particular, there have been calls for a complete ban on sports betting advertising, similar to the ban on tobacco advertising

The New York State Gaming Commission has also recently proposed regulations specific to sports betting advertising. These proposals were put forth in response to concerns about the potential negative impacts of gambling and sports betting, including addiction and underage gambling. The New York Gaming Commission’s proposals include:

  • Banning advertising that targets minors or encourages underage gambling.
  • Requiring all sports betting ads to include responsible gambling messaging, such as information about problem gambling hotlines and resources.
  • Prohibiting ads that make false or misleading claims about the likelihood of winning or the potential benefits of gambling.
  • Restricting the use of celebrities and athletes in sports betting ads. Limiting the placement and frequency of sports betting ads, particularly during live sports broadcasts.

Other US states are taking more targeted measures to restrict sports betting advertising. For example, in Virginia, a 2021 law prohibits sports betting advertising on college sports teams’ uniforms and equipment.

Despite this recent focus by state regulators, some critics argue that these restrictions do not go far enough. In particular, there have been calls for a complete ban on sports betting advertising, similar to the ban on tobacco advertising. Proponents of a ban argue that it would both help to protect vulnerable individuals from the potential harms of sports betting and help to reduce the normalisation of gambling in society.

Overall, sports betting-related advertising is a complex issue with many different factors to consider. While some see it as a legitimate way for sports betting operators to promote their products and services, others are concerned about the potential harm it can cause.