Seven professional sports leagues have teamed up to create the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising.
The collective, which also includes media entities NBCUniversal and FOX, was created to establish and implement advertising guidelines designed to protect consumers engaging in sports betting.
Many of the responsible gambling and consumer protection guidelines suggested by the coalition are the same as those implemented by legislators in Ohio, which launched legal sports betting statewide on Jan. 1.
These sportsbook advertising regulations were included in the Ohio sports betting legislation from the very beginning. Ohio regulators have since aggressively worked to enforce the advertising guidelines, levying over $1 million in fines against sportsbooks for advertising and marketing violations in the first three months of sports betting.
Coalition extends leagues’ dedication to responsible gambling practices
The sports leagues participating in the Coalition for Responsible Sports Betting Advertising are MLB, MLS, NASCAR, NBA, NFL, NHL and WNBA.
In an April press release announcing its formation, the CRSBA issued a joint statement about its formation:
“As the legalization of sports betting spreads nationwide, we feel it is critical to establish guardrails around how sports betting should be advertised to consumers across the United States. Each member of the coalition feels a responsibility to ensure sports betting advertising is not only targeted to an appropriate audience, but also that the message is thoughtfully crafted and carefully delivered.”
Sports betting has been gradually on the rise across the country since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018. There are now 33 states that have legalized sports betting, with more on the way.
U.S. sports leagues have come to fully embrace sports betting, partnering with sportsbooks for both retail and online operations, among other partnerships. Most of Ohio’s major professional sports franchises, including the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Cavaliers and Columbus Blue Jackets, have sportsbook partnerships, including, in several cases, on-site retail sportsbooks.
But along the way the leagues have been mindful of promoting responsible gambling practices, of which the CRSBA is an extension.
“While providing new fan engagement opportunities to enjoy our sport in more ways, we have to continue to be mindful and deliberate with how these sports betting options are presented and to whom they’re directed,” Kenny Gersh, executive vice president of media and business development for MLB, said in the press release.
“Layering this coalition’s work in the advertising arena on top of our efforts to promote responsible gambling and address problem gambling challenges will lead to more thoughtful planning and implementation across the board,” Gersh continued.
Coalition promoting core principles for sportsbook advertising
In announcing the coalition’s formation, the CRSBA presented six guiding principles all sports betting advertising should adhere to:
- Sports Betting Should be Marketed Only to Adults of Legal Betting Age
“The content of sports betting advertising, marketing and promotion should primarily appeal to individuals of legal betting age,” the statement said.
- Sports Betting Advertising Should Not Promote Irresponsible or Excessive Gambling or Degrade the Consumer Experience
All sportsbook advertisements should include “a clear, prominent responsible gaming message, including information on responsible gambling resources.”
- Sports Betting Advertisements Should Not Be Misleading
Along with not promoting “unrealistic expectations of financial gain,” advertisements should never claim that a bet is “without risk if the customer must incur any loss, or risk the customer’s own money, to use or withdraw winnings from such bet.”
- Sports Betting Advertisements Should Be In Good Taste
Ads should adhere to “community standards” and “never undermine public perception of sports or their integrity.”
- Publishers Should Have Appropriate Internal Reviews of Sports Betting Advertising
Operators should provide training to employees about responsible sports betting policies and “implement internal processes” to ensure the company is in compliance with those policies.
- Publishers Should Review Consumer Complaints Pertaining to Sports Betting Advertising
Operators should implement a process to review user complaints.
Ohio sportsbook advertising guidelines nearly identical
The CRSBA’s stated principles for sportsbook advertising should sound familiar to Ohio sports betting regulators. Many of the guidelines are already included in Ohio sports betting law.
Just before Christmas last year, days before Ohio’s sports betting launch, the Ohio Casino Control Commission issued a sternly worded letter to sports gaming stakeholders reminding sportsbook operators of the state’s established sports betting advertising rules.
The rules Ohio regulators reiterated in that letter are at the core of CRSBA’s sports betting advertising principles.
In its December letter, the OCCC said it had observed “consistent violations” of three core tenets regarding sportsbook advertising and marketing:
- Advertisements must not target individuals under the age of 21 (Ohio’s legal gambling age).
- All advertisements must have a responsible gambling message.
- All responsible gambling messages must be conspicuous.
The OCCC has also long been warning sportsbook operators against advertising with misleading language in relation to so-called “free” or “risk-free” bet offers.
Ohio law states that “promotions or bonuses described as free or risk-free must not require the patron to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the free wager.”
The OCCC suggests sportsbook’s use terms like “bet credit,” “promo play” or “bonus play” when an offer requires customers to risk their own money in any way.
Ohio has implemented fines for advertising violation
Just after the sports betting launch in Ohio, governor Mike DeWine weighed in on the apparent violations of the state’s sportsbook advertising rules.
“The companies that are doing the massive advertising need to be aware that they’re being looked at very closely by the governor and the Casino Control Commission in regard to statements that they are making,” DeWine said in early January.
The OCCC showed early on that it would levy fines against any sportsbook operators that continued to violate advertising guidelines.
Through the first three months of sports betting in Ohio, the state issued $1,050,000 in fines to some of the biggest names in online sportsbooks.
- On Jan. 18, Caesars Sportsbook received a $150,000 fine because its ads didn’t include the required responsible gambling messaging and offered misleading “free” or “risk-free” promotional bonuses.
- On Feb. 15, DraftKings Sportsbook was fined $500,000 for mailing advertisements addressed to individuals under 21, as well as for not having the proper responsible gambling messaging in its advertising and using misleading wording in promo offers.
- Also on Feb. 15, Barstool Sportsbook was fined $250,000 for advertising to individuals under the age of 21.
- BetMGM Sportsbook received a $150,000 fine on March 15 because, according to the OCCC, some of its “promotions or bonuses were advertised as ‘free’ or ‘risk-free’ when patrons were required to incur a loss or risk their own money to obtain the promotion.”
Ohio at the center of recent suspicious betting activity involving Alabama baseball
In an example of the gambling industry’s integrity monitors at work, the OCCC on May 1 shut down all betting on the University of Alabama baseball team after a third-party flagged two suspicious bets in Ohio. The move was the first time Ohio had taken such drastic action in response to integrity issues since launching sports betting in January.
Two large bets were reportedly placed at the BetMGM Sportsbook at Great American Ball Park on LSU to defeat Alabama on April 28. That set off alarms at U.S. Integrity, a Las Vegas-based firm that monitors betting activity.
No. 1-ranked LSU won the game over Alabama, 8-6, as a relatively heavy favorite.
Alabama fired head baseball coach Brad Bohannon just days later, on May 4. The school did not offer many details about the decision, saying that he violated “the standards, duties, and responsibilities expected of university employees.”
The Southeastern Conference, like the state of Ohio, partners with U.S. Integrity to monitor betting markets involving its collegiate sports.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told ESPN that the conference is monitoring the situation.
“We are aware of reports related to the suspension of wagering Alabama baseball games,” Sankey said. “We will continue to monitor available information and any regulatory activity.
“As many states have acted to legalize sports gambling, we are reminded of the threats gambling may pose on competitive integrity. Together with our member universities, we will continue to emphasize the importance of regulating, overseeing and providing education related to sports gambling activity.”
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