The fallout continues from last month’s series of articles by the New York Times on the U.S. sports-betting industry, and it is not clear how the industry can devise a strategy to respond to negative news coverage as betting and casino companies expand their markets.
A New York Times article about Barstool Sports’ controversial founder, David Portnoy, was front and center during licensing hearings this month by the Massachusetts Gaming Control Commission.
Ultimately, the commission voted unanimously to approve a temporary license for retail sports wagering by Penn Entertainment but withheld a permanent license until the commission completes its probe into Barstool, which is Penn’s brand partner that is being acquired by the casino company.
Perhaps more ominously, the New York Times series of articles also drew the interest of Democratic U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who promptly sent letters to American Gaming Association CEO Bill Miller and Caesars CEO Tom Reeg expressing concern about the promotion of sports betting on college campuses.
Blumenthal’s office did not immediately respond to an email on Wednesday (December 21) asking whether he plans to offer federal sports-betting legislation during the new session of Congress beginning in January.
So far, the response from the U.S. gaming industry to the New York Times series has been to curse the messenger.
Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden this week described the Times articles as “sensationalized” and Miller has complained about the powerful newspaper ignoring the economic benefits provided by gaming.
On Wednesday, AGA Vice President Casey Clark said the success of today's American gaming industry is dispelling "antiquated Hollywood stereotypes."
"Our job is to be tireless, unapologetic advocates for gaming and ensure the public, key influencers and decision makers everywhere understand our members' many meaningful contributions," Clark said.
The gaming industry and its lobbyists have a long history of claiming they can never win with the national news media because casinos are considered a sin industry, like alcohol and tobacco.
The AGA’s founder and original CEO, Frank Fahrenkopf, once said the gambling business could not even receive fair coverage in Nevada.
Ronnie Jones, a former chairman of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board, who is a consultant for Entain, was among those interviewed by the New York Times.
“In the case of the New York Times, I think the reporters did their homework but editorially perhaps they had something of a preconceived narrative in writing the series,” Jones said.
Some will always view the business model of gambling as predatory, according to Jones.
“How the gaming industry pivots to redefine that image as it expands from coast to coast will tell us much about the heart and soul of an increasingly popular industry,” he said.
It also should be noted many gaming professionals contacted for this story declined to comment.
Resentment about media coverage of gambling may be even more intense in the UK than it is in the U.S.
Several leading British newspapers, both liberal and conservative, have campaigned for a number of years for tougher restrictions on online gambling and gaming machines, with frequent negative portrayals of how the industry treats problem gamblers in particular.
The UK government is poised to soon propose long-delayed gambling reforms that are expected to cap wagers on online slots games, tighten advertising and introduce so-called affordability checks for gamblers, among other things.
In September 2016, London-based gambling consultant Steve Donoughue wrote a column for Gambling Insider entitled “Why does everybody hate us?”
“We need to mobilise our supporters, our staff and our customers and show our detractors that what we do is a part of our culture, our heritage and our future. Gamblers are happier people than non-gamblers,” Donoughue wrote at the time.
Six years later, Donoughue told VIXIO GamblingCompliance: “I can safely say that has not happened.”
The UK gambling industry needs to do three things to improve its image, according to Donoughue.
First, it could invest £100m in a charitable organization that has nothing to do with gambling; for example, to build sporting facilities for the disabled.
The industry should also set up a rapid-response unit to reply swiftly to negative media reports, and fund gambling research centers at universities to provide facts on the impact of gambling on mental health.
“We’re still not doing enough. It will mean disaster very soon,” Donoughue said.