First came the sports betting boom Now comes the backlash

First came the sports betting boom. Now comes the backlash.

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers and regulators, who began the rapid expansion of legalized gambling in the United States, are now moving nationwide to tighten scrutiny of the gambling industry, particularly around advertising that could reach underage bettors.

The crackdown also extends to bettors themselves, as at least three states have responded to a surge in abusive behavior by moving to ban gamblers for threatening or harassing athletes after losing bets.

This more aggressive approach to online betting is evident in countries around the world, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, where officials have enacted or proposed new online betting restrictions, in some cases sponsorships, in recent months banned by celebrities and almost exclusively advertising.

Nationwide, 33 states and the District of Columbia offer legal sports betting, followed by Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska and Florida. That means more than half of Americans live in places where sports betting is legal, five years after the Supreme Court overturned a law that banned most states from legalizing the practice. In all, Americans have legally wagered over $220 billion on esports since the court case in 2018.

Across the United States, state regulations and laws began to adjust this winter, including in New York, where mobile sports betting brought $16.5 billion in bets and a staggering $909 million in new tax and mobile betting in its first year of legalization generated license revenue.

But the explosion of legally sanctioned online sports betting has also sparked growing concerns that it could be causing harm. New York responded by proposing new rules that would ban any advertising on campus or targeting “anyone under the legal age,” which in New York is 21, while Ohio tightened enforcement measures.

“People are waking up to the need to intervene and not wait a decade and take the full brunt of the damaging effects, especially on minors,” said Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, who said he was extremely disappointed with the move promotional content in his state since betting started this year. “The industry will certainly never control itself.”

According to BIA Advisory Services, an industry data aggregator, an estimated $1.8 billion was spent promoting online gambling in local markets in the United States last year. That’s an increase of almost 70 percent in just one year, which has contributed to some awareness among certain state regulators – and many other sports viewers – that the airwaves are too overloaded with sports betting advertising.

In the past six months, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio and Connecticut have enacted or proposed new sports betting rules, some of which are now in effect or awaiting final approval. Measures vary by state, but most aim to prevent fraudulent marketing or promotions aimed at underage bettors.

Maine has proposed rules that would allow television advertising for sports betting to run only during live game broadcasts, which would be the most restrictive policy in the country. They would also ban ads offering betting bonuses and ban the use of “cartoon characters, professional or Olympic athletes, celebrities or entertainers” in ads.

Massachusetts last month officially banned marketing on campus and banned advertising aimed at minors. This month it also joined New York in banning sports betting marketers from taking a commission on bets placed by customers who supply them to sports betting platforms, arguing that those arrangements could encourage problem gambling.

Brian O’Dwyer, chairman of the New York State Gaming Commission, said sports betting generates tax revenue in his state. But he added: “We have to make sure we’re not making people addicted, we’re not encouraging problem gambling and certainly not encouraging underage gambling.”

Maryland and Connecticut are independently seeking to ban betting companies from contracting with public universities where they pay schools to help them market their sports betting platforms.

“I find it outrageous,” said Connecticut State Representative Amy Morrin Bello, a Wethersfield Democrat, of the agreements certain betting companies signed with eight universities across the country. Her bill banning the deals passed this month by a vote of 142 to 0.

Ms Morrin Bello and Mr O’Dwyer said their regulatory action was prompted by a New York Times report last year on the explosive growth of sports betting in the United States, including marketing on campuses.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission has fined sports betting companies more than $800,000 since January. Violations included DraftKings, one of the most prominent betting platforms, which admitted to unlawfully claiming that bettors could take “free bets” and mistakenly sent 2,582 advertisements to citizens under the legal betting age of 21, asking them to open their mobile app Download Claim $200 Free Bets.

Penn Entertainment, another major sports betting company operating under the Barstool brand, was separately fined in February. Late last year, Barstool hosted a college football show on the University of Toledo campus that promoted the company’s mobile sportsbook application despite an advertising ban on under-21s.

Both companies declined to comment.

Mr Schuler said the enforcement has resulted in greater compliance from advertisers. But he said he still has concerns about things like the logos of betting companies on the jerseys of the Columbus, Ohio, pro soccer team, a practice he called “completely offensive” considering these players are heroes to many youngsters . “Their greed trumps the common sense they should use when looking out for harm to minors,” he said, adding that he does not currently have the authority to ban betting sponsors from appearing on shirts.

The rise of abusive behavior towards college athletes and professional players has drawn the attention of coaches and players themselves. Anthony Grant, the coach of the University of Dayton men’s basketball team, in January, just days after Ohio legalized sports betting, condemned verbal and online attacks on his players by angry bettors.

At a hearing last month in Illinois, Josh Whitman, the athletic director at the state’s flagship university, urged lawmakers to continue to ban state sportsbooks from accepting bets on state college sports. He handed lawmakers a letter signed by officials from numerous state universities that contained five pages of crude, and sometimes racist, remarks directed at players and teams online.

Chris Boucher, a forward for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, described one of the hateful messages he received from a bettor on a podcast in March. “I chose the wrong slave today,” the person wrote to Mr Boucher on social media after losing his bet.

“In its purest form, players take offense because fans sometimes act like players play to bet,” said David Foster, assistant general counsel for the union that represents NBA players. “If it crosses the line and becomes a nuisance and a threat, that’s even worse.”

While specific wording varies, the law or rule changes proposed or approved this year in Ohio, West Virginia and Massachusetts would broadly allow state officials to bar bettors who threaten or harass athletes.

Industry has supported the proposals, saying they abhor such behavior towards athletes.

“There’s absolutely no place for that,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, whose membership includes most of the major casino companies, as well as FanDuel and DraftKings. “And anyone who takes their reaction to losing a bet to this extreme, I think they have a gambling problem and need to seek help.”

The gaming industry and professional sports leagues have announced their efforts to counter harmful practices – and prevent further mandatory tightening of the rules.

These include revisions to the American Gaming Association’s “Code of Responsible Marketing,” which advocates banning the term “risk-free” betting and prohibits marketing partnerships with colleges. The professional sports leagues and some television networks have joined forces to form what is known as the “Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising”, with statements such as “Sports betting should only be marketed to adults of legal betting age.”

Mr Clark said the industry has taken steps to address emerging issues before regulators, reflecting a commitment to “provide the right consumer protections that enable a sustainable legal sports betting market”.

Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a lobbyist representing the National Council on Problem Gambling and other organizations, said the tightening of the rules was in response to state officials’ sloppy work in passing legislation to legalize sports betting in so many states since 2018 .

“These are discussions that should have happened before legalization,” she said.

Ms. Doura-Schawohl added that the actions of regulators abroad are a reflection of what may come next if the US sports betting industry does not take swift action to deal with problems that have arisen in countries where sports betting some have been legal for many years.

Australia is preparing to ban the use of credit cards for online betting, which now accounts for about 20 percent of betting. Belgium and the Netherlands will ban gambling advertising on television, radio, in newspapers and in public spaces from this summer.

“Unless you have targeted advertising – billboards and TV ads – you can’t control who sees them, including young people and people with gambling problems,” said Frerick Althof, a spokesman for the Dutch Minister for Legal Protection.

Canada’s largest province, Ontario, last month proposed a ban on the use of athletes and celebrities in advertising, concluding that “the potentially harmful effects on the most vulnerable demographic, minors, remain high.” And in the UK, last month the government agency that oversees online gambling released a long-awaited study concluding that “changes are needed now” as “gambling risks becoming a clinical addiction”. , and proposed “financial risk checks” for bettors losing more than $160 a month, and advocated trying to remove gambling logos from the front of players’ shirts.

Mr Clark of the American Gaming Association said the gaming industry would object if some of these moves were proposed in the United States, citing Maine’s pending restrictions on sports betting advertising, which it believes are excessive.

“We’ve always wanted to learn from more mature markets,” he said, but added, “We don’t support restrictions when we can market legitimate, regulated businesses.”