Opinion: The AGA Made the Right Move Pre-Empting Betting Marketing Limits

  • Regulators in certain states have begun reforming sportsbook marketing rules
  • The AGA has pre-empted spread of this regulation by updating its own ad practices
  • This kind of action could prevent the draconian regulation seen in mature markets
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Owain Flanders, VSO News writer, believes that the AGA made the right decision in pre-empting widespread regulation on certain sportsbook marketing. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

The end of the honeymoon

“If you can’t beat them, join them” – that’s what they always say.

The tenacious opponent that sportsbook operators will never beat is regulation. This is evident in mature wagering markets across the globe, particularly in Europe where gambling companies have had to contort to the will of legislators.

US operators are still in the honeymoon period of widespread wagering

In contrast to these more mature markets, the US gambling sector is only just getting started on its betting journey. US operators are still in the honeymoon period of widespread wagering, meaning the general public is yet to grow tired of the growing presence of gambling in their day-to-day lives.

Up until recently, that has meant that betting operators have been able to use every means at their disposal to advertise their products, whether it be through major league partnerships or more controversial deals with colleges such as LSU. However, it finally seems that the honeymoon period may be coming to an end, with the first hint of marketing reform rearing its head.

Now, the American Gaming Association (AGA) and its members have acted quickly and sensibly in pre-empting these rules by setting their own standards. It’s a move with proven success in other markets that could save US sportsbooks far more serious issues further down the line.

The state of play

Last month, new restrictions approved by the New York Gaming Commission made clear that the tide is turning for betting marketing. The regulator unanimously green-lit tighter controls on online betting advertising, aimed at limiting promotions that target college students and underage individuals.

concerns are far from confined to the borders of New York

Demonstrating that these marketing concerns are far from confined to the borders of New York, sports betting ad limits hit Connecticut and Pennsylvania this month. In a similar vein to the New York restrictions, Connecticut decided to ban operators from promoting to college students, while Pennsylvania outlawed certain language from sportsbook promos, such as “risk-free” and “free bet.”

Seemingly in response to these restrictions, the AGA announced an update to its Responsible Marketing Code this week. As per the rules, colleges can no longer sign partnerships that promote or endorse sports betting in any way outside of alumni groups. They also banned underage individuals from participating in betting ads, along with the term “risk-free” mentioned in the Pennsylvania rules.

It’s a move that will likely appease many who have criticized the industry so far. That includes influential lawmakers such as Senator Richard Blumenthal, who last year took aim at Caesars Entertainment for its “disgraceful practice” of marketing at colleges. But more importantly, it will also work to ease concerns held by the general public.  

This attempt at reassurance is made clear in the words of AGA CEO Bill Miller, who when announcing the rules this week, stated: “The AGA and our members are committed to building a sustainable marketplace that protects vulnerable populations and gives consumers the knowledge and tools to keep sports betting fun for adults.”

Lessons from Europe

If US sportsbooks want to avoid further regulation, it is important that they take lessons from more mature markets in Europe. In some of these nations, the tide has completely turned for betting deals in sport. For instance, Italy banned all soccer teams from partnering gambling companies in 2019, Spain did the same for its top-tier teams in 2020, and Netherlands has vowed to explore the idea this year.

the English Premier League (EPL) is going to lose front-of-shirt sponsorship deals

The situation is looking bleak for these partnerships in the UK too. The government already introduced a “whistle to whistle” ban on gambling ads, which prohibits sportsbook TV marketing between the start and end of each soccer game. Now, it looks like the English Premier League (EPL) is going to lose front-of-shirt sponsorship deals altogether after a ramping up of pressure from anti-gambling groups in recent years.

Notably, however, reports suggest that the EPL clubs will vote to voluntarily ban gambling sponsors from their shirts. In doing so, it will make the teams appear proactive in dealing with MP and public concerns, while potentially preventing more drastic measures. For instance, reports suggest the clubs will be able to maintain gambling deals in general, and can display their sponsors on shirt sleeves.

Whether or not the AGA is conscious of the situation across the pond, its own actions demonstrate a very similar tact in dealing with regulation. As betting increases its growth in the US, further curtailments are unavoidable. As the EPL teams are demonstrating, the key is to pre-empt these inevitable changes, maintaining a good image in the public eye while avoiding unnecessarily strict rules.

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