With sports betting spreading like wildfire across the USA, and addiction experts deeming it the next opioid crisis, attention has swiftly shifted to the most vulnerable members of society – our youth.
While minors are certainly not legally allowed to bet on sports they are being groomed to become the biggest generation of gamblers that the country has ever seen. Between 60-80% of high school students report having gambled for money – can you imagine what will happen once they can legally do so? And marketing directives are doing nothing to prevent it. Pundits may point to sports betting advertising regulation in the USA as being a protective barrier, but there is an impenetrable case that states it’s simply not enough. Not even close. In fact, regulations as they are, are a complete failure. If anything, they pave the way for operators to tap into an assembly line of of-age players with each passing birthday.
Below is a succinct breakdown of how sports betting advertising regulations are already failing future generations.
5 Ways Regulations Are Riddled with Loopholes that Allow Operators to Groom the Next Generation of Gamblers
I. There Are No Federal Rules About Advertising
In 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban on sports betting, they didn’t outright legalize sports betting. What they did, was allow each individual state in the Union to regulate it as they see fit. Fast forward to 2023 to find that nearly 70% of U.S. states (at press) have legalized it. By passing the buck to each U.S. state to regulate sports betting within their borders, the feds have also skirted responsibility over advertising regulation. With tax revenue dollar signs rolling into their eyes like a jackpot slot, many states (with some exceptions) are not firm enough in how they dictate what can and can’t be stated in marketing communications. As a result, youth are placed at risk:
“States regulate how sportsbooks can operate but give companies wide latitude over what they can say in advertisements — a break from the constraints on other industries where there is a risk of addiction, such as tobacco. And there are no advertising rules specific to the sports betting industry at the federal level. The limited oversight has raised alarms for some, including advocates who worry about the potential risks for those with a history of problem gambling and people too young to bet.”NPR
A federal bill to ban sports betting ads was recently introduced in New York, but what are the odds of it passing? At the onset of 2023, the New York State Gaming Commission reported that handle surpassed $16 billion. The odds of the bill in the state seeing fruition, are slim.
II. No Accounting for Semantic Association
States have taken a stance against the use of “risk free bet” in marketing communications, to supposedly protect at-risk gamblers. However, there are innumerable loopholes when it comes to semantic association. Operators such as FanDuel have coined “No Sweat First Bet” to encourage registrations and first-time deposits and DraftKings calls their sign-up bonus a “Free Bet” while BetMGM promises new registrants that they will “Get Your Stake Back”. When you remove consequence from marketing communications, there is little to keep an impressionable Generation-Z from gambling. And why wouldn’t they, when 72% of them already think that they will be wealthy.
III. Actors, Athletes, Rappers, Skaters, and Wrestlers
Who do you think popular actors, athletes, rappers, skateboarders, and WWE wrestlers currently being used in sports betting advertising are targeting? It’s not for the “benefit” of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and maybe not even for Millennials. These are all marketing Influencers who collectively have hundreds of millions of followers on Instagram and TikTok, which each have an average user base aged 18-24. There are no regulations in place to limit the use of Influencers, no matter how young their fan base may be.
IV. Ads Disguised as “News” Slip Through Cracks
Even if U.S. states step up to tighten sports betting advertising regulation, there will be additional loopholes as the media is able to pass promotions off as “news”. This is not only occurring during TV broadcasts, but online where American youth spend most of their time.
Prior to 2018, if you searched the word “sportsbook” in Google News, you would find actual reports about regulations, legislations, and related stories. Even online searches regarding league (NBA, NFL, etc.) matchups were met with general game previews from CBS Sports and the like. But now, it’s a minefield of sportsbook odds and sign-up OFFERS, being presented by the Washington Post, USA Today, Miami Herald, and a wide number of broadcast network news affiliates. Google Adwords may have rules in place with respect to their PPC ad policies, but there is nothing to filter sports betting promotions being passed off as editorials. Moreover, when the mainstream media reports on gambling losses, they do so in a manner that makes it look fun.
V. Post-Secondary Education in Sports Betting Offered On-Campus
Get a diploma, get an education in sports betting. That’s essentially what’s happening in some states as high-school graduates make their way into post-secondary programs. Select colleges and universities are allowing sportsbooks and casinos to promote gambling on campus, while signs point to many more following suit as a means to buffer against a loss of funding. If such an allowance is positioned as an ultimatum to university program closures, will gambling advertising regulations take a firm stance against on-campus marketing?
No matter how you look at it, the sports betting industry is grooming the next generation of gamblers at a record pace. No amount of advertising regulation can prevent it from occurring. What needs to happen, is the provision of greater access to problem gambling support. That, and more communication regarding the existence of gambling disorder support networks. Kindbridge is doing our part, and we ask that you do the same by sharing the links to these resources for individuals, families, and groups.
Concerned Families, Young Americans, Groups, and Organizations:
CALL +1 (877) 426-4258