As Sports-Betting Ads Proliferate, U.S. Congressman Seeks Federal Ban

February 10, 2023
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Describing the U.S. sports-betting industry as predatory by so aggressively advertising its products, a New York congressman introduced a bill on Thursday to ban all ads for sports wagering.

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Describing the U.S. sports-betting industry as predatory by so aggressively advertising its products, a New York congressman introduced a bill on Thursday (February 9) to ban all ads for sports wagering.

New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko’s bill to ban sports-betting ads is modeled on the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1966, which banned tobacco advertisements.

His proposal would ban all sports-betting advertisements on any medium overseen and regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including television, radio and the internet.

That would leave the industry with only a few means to reach consumers, including newspapers or mailers that casinos have used for decades to provide offers and free bets to their players’ club members.

“Today, I’m introducing the Betting on our Future Act to take federal action to reel in the problematic rise of predatory advertising by sports gambling companies,” Tonko said in a statement. “Many of you have noticed these incessant ads, which experts say are contributing to a rise in problem gambling.”

Tonko said he believed the aggressive advertising campaigns “pose particular dangers, with promises of ‘risk-free’ bets enticing vulnerable individuals to get hooked on their products.”

“If these companies won’t do more to curb the surge in problem gambling, the federal government must step in,” the congressman warned.

Tonko's proposal received immediate pushback from the U.S. gaming industry's main lobbying group in Washington, D.C.

"The American Gaming Association [AGA] and our members adamantly oppose any legislation that seeks to ban or limit casino gaming advertising, including for legal sports betting," Chris Cylke, the AGA's senior vice president, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance via email.

"Any such effort only serves to reduce awareness for legal options to the benefit of illegal, offshore operators and the detriment of consumers and communities," Cylke said. "The proposed legislation would violate well-established free speech protections and undermine the expertise of more than 5,000 state and tribal gaming regulators across the country.

"Congress should instead focus its attention on combating the predatory and pervasive offshore illegal market that offers no responsible gaming measures, age verification or problem gambling resources," he added.

Still, Cylke said the AGA appreciated Tonko's interest in sports-betting regulation and "will continue to work to ensure a sustainable legal marketplace that puts consumer protections first.”

In a one-page fact sheet released along with the bill, Tonko cited a 45 percent increase in calls to the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network in 2021, and 60 percent to 80 percent of U.S. high school students reporting they have gambled for money.

Tonko noted that an estimated 7m people in the U.S. have a gambling problem or addiction.

“University and colleges across the nation are partnering with sports gambling companies, giving the industry direct access to a new and impressionable generation of gamblers,” he wrote.

His criticism over the deals with U.S. colleges comes after the University of Colorado last month ended its incentive program with PointsBet, in which the university received a $30 bonus each time someone signed up to PointsBet with a code and placed a wager.

Caesars Sportsbook has signed deals with Michigan State and Louisiana State universities. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, last year called on Caesars to end its sports-betting deals with both universities.

Tonko specifically highlighted DraftKings for spending $500m in sales and marketing in 2020, and an additional $400m during the first six months of 2021.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on sports betting, the late Republic Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced the Sports Wagering Market Integrity Act of 2018 to try to establish federal regulatory standards for states to abide by.

Never taken up by a Senate committee or introduced in subsequent congressional sessions, the Schumer-Hatch bill would have granted the U.S. Attorney General the right to approve each state’s sports-betting regulatory framework.

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