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A look back on Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2023
This year, operators across the industry have come out in their droves to support PGAM, as well as the NCPG that organises it.
Not one to miss out on an opportunity to continue the conversation on problem gambling, Flutter-owned Fanduel marked the month by donating $100,000 (£80,800/€91,7000) to the NCPG to continue to support the NCPG’s Agility Grants programme.
For NCPG executive director Keith Whyte this was just one element that made the 20th annual PGAM “the best ever”.
“We saw operators including Caesars, FanDuel and BetMGM announce important responsible gambling programmes and commitments,” he says. “And we witnessed a tremendous swell of grassroots support at the state and local level.”
Has the need for problem gambling awareness increased?
However, for advocacy groups and some politicians, the increase in states legalising sports betting in the country has been a cause for concern.
At the end of February, representative Paul Tonko introduced the Betting on Our Future Act into the House. The bill is modelled after the Federal Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act of 1965.
Essentially, it sets out to ban the advertisement of sportsbooks on any form of electronic communications under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Among some of these mediums include TV, radio and the internet.
In his reasoning, Tonko cited half-a-billion marketing spends and promotions advertising “risk-free” or “no-sweat” bets as predatory and potentially harmful. However, with the exception of US gaming giant FanDuel’s $1.0bn marketing spend last year, the industry as a whole has been decreasing its advertisement budget.
An increasing risk?
Nevertheless, Whyte still believes that the volume of sportsbook advertising in media poses a risk.
“One of the biggest challenges in the US right now is advertising,” he says. “There’s been an enormous surge in advertising around sports betting and online sports betting.”
As sports betting continues to grow in both popularity and legalisation in the US, the NCPG estimates that the risk of gambling grew by 30% between 2018 and 2021.
Whyte added that consumers and legislators alike have been contacting the NCPG regarding concerns on sports betting advertisement volume.
“We’re getting calls not just from ordinary citizens but from members of congress specifically reaching out to the NCPG to express concern about the amount of sports betting advertisements seen on radio and TV during the games,” says Whyte.
What can be done to raise standards?
Whyte says that operators and legislators can promote a myriad of safer gambling practices.
Third party assessment and compliance of safer gambling practices is the way forward. He says this is something the industry must continue to rely on.
Importantly, Whyte supports the idea of voluntary harmonisation of regulations across both state and independent operators.
“Operators and vendors should be able to provide the same consumer protections in each state,” he argues.
It’s difficult for both operators and consumers alike. Companies have to deal with different regulations such as minimum age and self-exclusion. Consumers, on the other hand, have to weed through the approach to getting problem gambling help based on how well their state addresses it.
Whyte notes that “right now, we’re not doing the best national practice”.
“Each state is creating, or not creating, its problem gambling system on its own. They haven’t harmonised their responsible gambling standards. We have 27 problem gambling helpline numbers in the United States – you only need one help line number,” he says.
Whyte says that all of the varying helpline numbers is throwing up even more problems.
“Could you imagine if the 911 number was different in every state?” he muses. “1-800 GAMBLER is the national number for the problem gambling and works everywhere across the United States – just use it.”
Ramping up regulatory efforts
However, the industry has definitely made positive changes towards safer gambling. Whyte believes that states like Massachusetts, with the Voluntary Self-Exclusion Programme (VSE), are leading the way in terms of safer gambling practice.
Despite the progress, he notes that there is still some way to go.
“We’ll get there one way or the other,” he says. “And unfortunately, it may take legislation [and] regulation, but that’s okay.”
The legislation he speaks of may just happen. The NCPG has been involved in a new act expected to be introduced into the house by representative Claudia Tenney from New York.
The Gambling addiction Recovery, Investment and Treatment (GRIT) act proposes to allocate 50% of preexisting sports betting excise tax towards problem gambling help.
Whyte notes this would not be a new tax on the industry, but rather a redirection.
“We believe there’s a great precedent because at the federal level there are excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco sales,” he explains. “A large share of that money goes back to states to help them deal with the consequences of alcohol or tobacco.
“It’s just as appropriate that, when the federal government taxes sports betting, some of that tax revenue goes back to the states to help mitigate the consequences of gambling problems.”
Coincidentally, another bill has just been introduced into the house by the co-chairs of the bipartisan congressional gaming caucus. This act would end the federal excise tax on sports betting all together.
Entitled the Discriminatory Gaming Tax Repeal Act, the argument behind this bill is also rooted in issues in the industry: the co-chairs believe that the federal excise tax encourages illegal gambling and harms legal operations.
Regardless of which legislation comes to pass, if any, it is clear that the political landscape for gambling is changing, particularly in terms of the growing sports betting market.
Recently, Washington DC authorities have been criticised for removing problem gambling services funding from the proposed budget for 2024.
In the past three years, $200,000 had been set aside for gambling-related problems – however, the money was never spent.
The Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018 mandates the use of the first $200,000 of income earned from sports betting. This money must be allocated to support programmes and research related to gambling addiction.
American Gaming Association (AGA) senior VP Chris Cylke argues that this is the “latest misstep by the DC government in their effort to offer a viable legal sports betting market”.
Whyte understands that progress is not linear. “With more than 50 years of advocacy experience we know that setbacks happen,” he says.
“That just means we redouble our efforts and never give up or go away. In the case of DC we are glad that many of the companies operating gambling in DC have stepped up to support our efforts to pressure the government to reverse course.”
It’s something of a fall to earth. After the highs of PGAM 2023, Whyte still has work to do.