National Council On Problem Gambling: States Have Done ‘Poorly’ On Building Sports Betting Laws

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Problem sports betting

Betting on Sports America is coming April 23-25 to the New York City area. The conference will bring together people from across the sports betting industry to take a look at the nascent US market as more states consider legalizing wagering.

Leading up to the event, Legal Sports Report is talking with some of the speakers and presenters for the conference. First up is Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, who talked about the challenges and opportunities that come with legal sports wagering.

States and sports betting in 2018

Dustin Gouker: Obviously a bunch of states are looking to legalize sports betting. Looking back on what’s happened in 2018 and heading into this year, how do you think states have done, have they done a good job? A bad job? 

Keith Whyte: I think they’ve done relatively poorly. We’re commissioning an assessment of the state of responsible gaming provisions against our five minimum responsible gaming standards for sports betting legislation that we’ve put out there. And I think it’s only New Jersey I believe that’s hit all five.

So, yeah, we’re disappointed. But we’re still working hard to try and get as much in there as possible because I think in the long run, not only does it help problem gamblers, but it absolutely benefits operators and it benefits the state. Good responsible gambling saves government considerable health care and criminal justice costs and increases the sustainability of this expanded gaming segment.

DG: When you’re talking about it, it sounds like an easy sell, but obviously it’s not when you’re pushing for what you’d like to see in legislation.

KW: And that’s the disappointing part as a lot of this is new revenue, so there’s absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t dedicate some revenue to prevent gambling problems or make sure there’s comprehensive responsible gambling provisions.  Perhaps in many of these states they don’t have advanced or modern responsible gambling provisions for their existing casino, lottery or racing operations.

And so they don’t see the need to do anything special for sports betting, even though their existing responsible gambling provisions are in some cases decades out of date. In other cases, I think there’s a perverse incentive or a disincentive for them to, for example, study the prevalence of gambling problems because it will certainly show that there are a small but significant percentage of people who are suffering already, and likely that number will grow with expansion.

Right now problem gamblers are a little bit out of sight out of mind, and some state legislators seem to want to keep it that way.

Sports betting vs. other types of gambling

DG: Are there any unique challenges presented with sports betting with regards to responsible gambling or is it or is it pretty similar to other forms of gaming?

KW: I think there are a lot of similarities but some significant differences, which is why we are calling for research — that’s one of our five principles – to help everyone determine the best ways to minimize harm so we all maximize benefit. There should be some public transparency in the data collected by gaming operators so that we can determine if there are challenges.

But I do think the format is going to provide some additional challenges. Most sports spending is going to be done via mobile or internet, and we know that is associated with higher rates of problems in young males.

And I think the types of bets that you’re seeing on the horizon in the US are different than what any other jurisdictions have ever done. The combination of increased access, increased advertising and increased action in some of these sports betting products may well have higher risk.

And so I think there’s a neat opportunity to use this technology to deliver better, more responsible gaming. Expansion right now is an experiment without much of a safety net and a lot of people seem to be hoping or assuming that someone’s going to be there to pick up the pieces if there are problems.

And in the 20 percent of states with no funding for problem gambling, it’s not clear who that’s going to be.

Technology and responsible gambling

DG: You talk about technology, and that’s an opportunity in some ways for you. When you’re at a brick and mortar casino, your opportunities to touch someone on responsible gaming issues might be limited, but they’re actually can be increased if you do it the right way online, right?

KW: We absolutely believe and have long held you can perhaps provide a safer gambling experience with account-based, online wagering and certainly there’s a lot of potential in both this new technology and big data to deliver a more customized, personalized responsible gambling experience.

I believe US sports gambling is rapidly moving towards a customized gambling offer. It’s in the realm of possibility both technologically and in regulation to deliver to individual gamblers customized betting opportunities that are specifically tailored to them. We’re almost at that level now.

It would be great to be able to target responsible gambling messages and tools and education the same way. Because we know the more tailored these resources are to an individual’s risk profile, the more effective it is.

Partnering with the industry and having better information allows us to target those who are most at risk while not bothering the vast majority of customers who are at little or no risk. Right now we’re sort of forced into generally providing one-size fits all responsible gaming messages.

I think the advanced vision for responsible gaming is that for players that are very, very low risk we’re not spending time, energy or money sending them messages intended for problem gamblers. It’s inefficient and ineffective.

Sports leagues and gambling 

DG: I think one of the interesting things that’s come out of lobbying pushes that the, that the professional sports leagues, actually one of their talking points is about responsible gambling. I know NBA and MLB and NFL to some extent of all of touched on this as an issue. What have you made of that?

KW: Well, I think it’s great and we certainly take them at their word, but we’ve seen, quite frankly, little evidence that they’re doing much now with responsible gambling education in their existing operations or that they are in fact pushing hard for any real responsible gambling measures in state sports betting bills they support.

To be clear, I’m not saying they are not sincere in their support of responsible gambling, I’m just saying that I think they have so little experience in the gambling space that they may not understand what good responsible gambling really means, how tattered the current problem gambling safety net is, or how hard you have to work to get these things in place in some states. 

I applaud the NFL and Major League Baseball for at least becoming members of the National Council. We’ve been asking the other leagues for years and will welcome their support.