The US sports betting industry is getting an active responsible marketing watchdog.
The American Gaming Association launched the Code Compliance Review Board to enforce its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering.
The board includes two independent co-chairs: Joe Bertolone and Becky Harris, both with UNLV. Bertolone is the executive director of UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation. Harris is a distinguished fellow in gaming at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.
Five AGA members round out the board with responsible gaming/market representatives:
- Hard Rock
- MGM Resorts
- Penn National
- Rush Street
- William Hill
Multiple European countries with sports betting have had advertising crackdowns in the past. This is the AGA’s shot at preventing that, according to Cait DeBaun, the senior director of strategic communications and responsibility.
“Learning lessons from the UK and other European countries like Spain, where there are crackdowns in advertising, or even the US with daily fantasy a few years ago, it’s important that the gaming industry have the opportunity to self-regulate and set a standard by which we market and advertise to our customers,” DeBaun said. “That includes prioritizing responsible gaming, only advertising to legal customers, placements of advertisements as well as the frequency of advertisements.”
What’s in responsible marketing code?
The Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Betting includes a couple of main points:
- Respecting the legal age for sports betting. Ads can’t primarily appeal to children or appear in media outlets primarily for children. Sports betting brands also cannot place messages on toys, games or sports equipment for children.
- Supporting responsible gaming. Ads can’t promote excessive betting and have to include a responsible gaming message and a toll-free help number.
- Controlling digital media and websites. All online content, including social media accounts, need to adhere to the code as well.
The AGA includes a link on its website to report ads that go against the code. It will regularly post summaries of findings about the complaints lodged.
If the complainant isn’t happy with the outcome, they can request a further review by the Code Compliance Review Board.
Social media still a gray area
The AGA will not specifically be clamping down on sportsbooks and their social media feeds.
“The AGA isn’t here to be the arbitrator of the marketing code,” DeBaun said. “That ultimately lies in the process, which offers individuals the ability to raise concerns that are evaluated and transparently reported.
“Implementation on social media, where messages are brief, may look different than a TV ad or web page. Operators will have an opportunity to make adjustments based on the process while the CCRB serves to oversee the process and uphold the code’s standards.”
Tweets by sportsbooks and their influencers aren’t always paid advertisements, of course, but still get the point across.
Take this from an influencer for the country’s largest sports betting operator, FanDuel Sportsbook:
Hey… NEED YOUR LOCKS.
Let’s MAKE ALL THE MONEY TODAY pic.twitter.com/cNMTAoF0GY
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) September 13, 2020
More responsible sports betting messages needed in US
All anyone has to do is spend an hour on sports betting Twitter to see there’s not enough regulation for responsible messages in the US. Take this screencap from Barstool Sports as one example:
Solid RG messaging from Barstool pic.twitter.com/KhK1FnM9KR
— Julian Rogers (@Pilsudski97) September 13, 2020
Messaging like “You can only lose if you quit” sends a troubling message for a brand launching a regulated sportsbook this week in Pennsylvania.
The fact that it’s supposed to be funny doesn’t really make a difference, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Studying alcohol and tobacco ads already proved that, he said.
This kind of content also goes completely against why everyone wanted to legalize sports betting in the first place as well, Whyte added.
“When you have this type of messaging, it encourages irresponsible gambling and it completely counteracts the ‘raison d’etre’ to legalize sports betting in the first place,” Whyte said. “We’re told over and over again we’re going to eliminate the illegal market and we’re going to better protect people because it’s a legal, regulated space.”
Excessive ads also an issue
It seems like every sports betting brand is advertising as much as possible following the shutdown of all major sports during the coronavirus pandemic.
Advertising levels during sports events feel like the early daily fantasy sports days. In 2015 and 2016, FanDuel and DraftKings ads were unavoidable during any game, especially NFL football.
That’s leaving the door wide open for criticism, Whyte said.
“I think this ad blitz runs the risk of potentially offending some folks, potentially getting in front of some state’s attorneys general who might want to make a point,” he said. “I think the industry has proven in the past to be a pretty easy target for somebody that’s trying to shoot up that populist resentment and anger.”
All sports betting operators fall under code
Even though the AGA only has seven sportsbook operators as members, all sports betting advertisements will be held to the code, the AGA clarified.
The seven members are all well-known names in the US:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- Hard Rock
- William Hill
It’s no surprise that most sportsbook operators not tied to major US casino operators aren’t on the list. The American Gaming Association typically represents commercial and tribal casino operators and the suppliers of those casinos.
Is AGA code and enforcement enough?
The fact that the AGA is attempting regulation without an independent third-party involved leaves a little to be desired.
But it’s still a positive first step, Whyte said. He constantly hears throughout the industry that operators want to avoid an advertising backlash. Those same voices typically think it’s someone else’s problem to deal with, though.
“In some sense, this step by the AGA is a positive sign that someone’s actually going to try to take a little responsibility,” Whyte said.
The AGA hopes the marketing code inspires all operators, not just its members, to be responsible in advertising.
“I’m sure there will be a misstep somewhere along the lines and we’ll learn and grow from that, approach our self-regulation and other responsible gaming regulations appropriately,” Debaun said. “For the time being, the AGA and our members believe we’ve set the bar here and it’s up to the broader industry to make sure they’re meeting it, if not exceeding it.”