The second part of CDC Gaming Reports’ interview with Keith Scott Whyte sees the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling discuss marketing levels, standards and why the amount of gambling advertising will continue to be a key topic for the U.S. industry.
Speaking to the NCPG’s executive director Keith Scott Whyte, it quickly becomes clear that advertising is the issue that feeds so much of the conversation and controversy around responsible gambling in the U.S. This is a key factor in many regulated markets, although a key difference in the U.S. is the speed and volume at which sports betting advertising has spread in recent years.
Recent new regulations that have come into play in Belgium (mature market) and Holland (newly-regulated) also show that crackdowns can happen at any time. But, and it’s worth reminding ourselves of this important fact, the ability to advertise openly on all major communication channels is also a key benefit of regulation and why operators agree to get licensed and taxed.
As ever, and if possible, an equilibrium must be reached on this issue, even if how this balance is reached is as hard to determine as it is to define. For some it might come in the form of one betting advert at the start and end of a sports event; others believe all bookmakers officially affiliated with the sports leagues should be allowed to advertise however often they want, while for some the only balance to be had is to not have any gambling advertising at all.
Whyte agrees that the speed at which the industry has expanded has played a part in the current situation developing as it has. He also notes that the situation has been complicated by the fact that there isn’t “a strong set of advertising standards” or clear “guidelines to adhere to from the start”.
He adds: “The First Amendment is case law in the U.S. and without a national regulator it’s very hard to get a handle on the issue”, even more so when there are no “consistent regulations that are designed to work across all states”. This takes on added importance as “the federal government doesn’t spend a penny (on responsible gambling campaigns) and we have no national-level support”.
The lack of funding from federal sources is an important point, as NCGP surveys from 2018 and 2021 revealed “a 30% increase in the number of players at risk of gambling problems nationwide”, says Whyte. He adds that federal authorities are “taking the (tax) money and running. So that’s where a lot of my advocacy focuses on the national level and on Capitol Hill”.
Whether the federal government gets involved or not in gambling regulation is highly controversial in the U.S., but the situation has also arisen because, Whyte says, Washington sees gambling taxes “as revenue you can create without raising taxes”.
“And frankly, I don’t think they want to look at the source and they don’t want to look at any problems created as (the revenue) seems to magically keep renewing itself”.
Another obvious point to make is that advertising comes through so many different channels. From TV adverts to radio slots to presenters giving out live odds in-program to paid and social media, Whyte adds that “sports betting advertising is also reaching many users in states where betting is not legal, so it’s a huge challenge to get a handle on the situation”.
Too close for comfort?
The fact that these topics are being raised and discussed so early in the life of the regulated U.S. online gambling sector is a feature of many newly-launched industries and, in the round, should be seen as a positive sign of the state of the debate.
But contradictory scenarios have also arisen. The most obvious one being the extent to which sports leagues and teams have embraced sports betting. This has been followed by a steady stream of betting scandals, with professional athletes getting caught and banned from their sports for up to one year.
The leagues have come down hard on those players at the same time as they accept multi-million dollar checks from the industry and in the past have invested in a number of operators and suppliers. Does Whyte think the leagues are too close to the industry when it comes to their commercial relationships?
“I wouldn’t say too close, but the leagues can provide a very powerful force to nudge operators towards better responsible gambling policies. We’ve seen it happen. The NBA was really the first to call for the end of ‘risk-free’ advertising. And as the NBA called on their authorized operators to act, it quickly spread across the industry.”
Whyte also points to the huge influence leagues like the NFL can have. “During every NFL game, bettors are directed towards responsibleplay.org, which is a site we launched last year and has had almost 300 million impressions. So when the NFL turns on that megaphone and pushes people towards our resources, it’s probably the largest and most effective responsible gambling message in the world.”
Looking ahead, Whyte says the focus “on the negative impacts of increased sports betting advertising” is not going to abate, but “while many people are concerned about the sheer volume, our focus is on potential negative impacts on youth and on people with gambling problems”.
This is because the NCPG believes “that much like in the UK children are frequently exposed to sports betting ads, and this may lead to higher rates of youth gambling participation. We also hear from gamblers in recovery that they find the massive influx of sports betting ads to trigger urges to gamble.”
It’s striking how similar the topics Whyte mentions as problematic are to those that are raised in the UK and in other regulated markets. It shows that they will continue to be at the forefront of the discussions around responsible gambling and player safety, and as Whyte says himself, “we look forward to working with all stakeholders to find solutions to these issues.”