Igaming Focus: Coalition of the willing?

April 27, 2023 8:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports
April 27, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports

Setting up a coalition to ensure gambling advertising adheres to general guidelines only works if it is backed up by concrete actions and measures. 

The debates around U.S. gambling advertising, player protection and the expansion of sports betting through broadscale regulation is reaching a crescendo that seems set to roll on for some time. 

The issues raised by those who object to what they describe as the pervasive presence of gambling brands during sports events and broadcasts include: 

  • the ubiquitous presence of gambling brands in and outside of sporting stadia and sheer amount of sports betting advertising. 
  • a sense that betting is everywhere: in stadiums, on screens, billboards.
  • that every sports league, regardless of size or importance, seems to have an official betting partner (“Bet on this weekend’s Mid-Atlantic Frisbee League games with our official betting partner…”).        
  • There is also, and this is harder to define, a sense that the industry’s increase in profile is unseemly and in poor taste. 

That final point is a subjective one and as a result is harder to pinpoint. But to an extent it is hard not to feel like appealing to people’s desire for monetary gains, along with the at times excessive image of the gambling industry, makes critics uneasy about what some would call the ‘unseemly’ rise of the industry, whether that’s in the U.S. or other markets. 

It’s also worth noting that this backlash has happened in just about every regulated market, and in recent times has resulted in advertising bans or restrictions in Italy, Spain or Belgium. 

Speed rush
This state of affairs has a number of causes, but the speed at which the U.S. has regulated sports betting in the past five years, and in the process given operators access to all major media and broadcasting platforms, has to be a key driver of the current complaints. 

The number of betting brands and the speed at which they have appeared at sporting events and during broadcasts might have been a shock to many unprepared consumers, and, again, has also been an issue in other regulated countries.  

Responsible coalition
As first reported by ESPN, the rising number of complaints about sports betting advertising has led professional sports leagues and media outlets to form the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising.

It advocates for consumer protection policies built on six core principles, such as sports betting should be marketed only to adults of legal betting age, should not promote irresponsible or excessive gambling or degrade the consumer experience and should be in good taste. 

In its statement it said: “Each member of the coalition feels a responsibility to ensure sports betting advertising is not only targeted to an appropriate audience, but also that the message is thoughtfully crafted and carefully delivered.”

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, praised the plan “for recognizing the importance of responsible sports betting advertising and taking steps to lead the industry in proactive change to protect consumers. We believe that with continued collaboration we can better mitigate problem gambling related harm”.

Family affair
The fact that families go to or watch sporting events together is another key reason behind the backlash against advertising. The uneasy feeling some parents may experience when seeing betting adverts as their children sit next to them is understandable. 

But for the sports leagues this must surely rank as one of those moments where the boomerang comes back at them (much) more quickly than they ever anticipated, if they did at all. 

Just as they were very quick to agree highly lucrative deals with operators and data suppliers to be official purveyors of bets or odds and statistics and recently have been equally quick to issue substantial fines and punishments to professional athletes for betting violations. This has also led some commentators to wonder about the timing of the launch of the aforementioned advertising coalition.  

Critics have lost no time in pointing to the inconsistencies and what some describe as the hypocrisy of the leagues’ respective positions with regard to these developments. This also brings to mind the recent case of Premier League striker Ivan Toney being banned for the same offense, just as critics pointed to his club’s shirt sponsor being an online sportsbook. 

Overbearing presence?
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes recently posted on social media that “the *constant* (his emphasis) gambling propaganda now integrated into every professional sports broadcast is really gross”. 

His tweet was viewed 3.4 million times and liked by more than 25,000 people and his subsequent comment that he was “fine with it being legal, and even ads but something about integrating it into the broadcast itself that really feels wrong” was echoed by many others.

Steve Ruddock, iGaming Analyst at Gambling.com, told CDC Gaming that regardless of the merits of the complainants’ arguments, “trying to convince people that their version of reality is flawed is a fool’s errand. Talking points beat logic and reason.”

He adds that there is no point trying to “win an unwinnable fight” and “rather than refute every claim, the industry should try to sympathize with people who feel sports betting’s presence has grown too large because their feelings (shared by many) resonate more than the industry’s narrative.”

DFS redux
To an extent, much of the negativity echoes the backlash against daily fantasy sports betting that occurred around 2015, when FanDuel and DraftKings branding was on every billboard and computer screen whenever a sporting event was taking place. 

It has also happened in other countries and arguably contributes as much to the negative image of the industry as any anti-money laundering or responsible gambling failures. 

Ruddock adds that operators should have put in place “proper guardrails to rein in the predictable excesses”. There is still time, but the industry would do well to take concrete action on these issues before it is too late.