Last week, the American Gaming Association (AGA) – a trade group representing the interests of the U.S. casino industry – introduced ‘The Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering’; a series of guidelines designed to keep operators and suppliers out of government regulator crosshairs. In recent months, multiple foreign governments have begun to crack down on gambling advertisements as addiction rates rise. AGA vice president of public affairs Sara Slane explained that “perception drives policy and if the perception is that the industry is over advertising (see: DFS circa ’15) and it’s leading to problem gambling, then it’s likely to result in arbitrary policies and regulations.” The AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code calls for a ban on advertising in locations where the majority (71.6%) of the audience is too young to gamble. Advertisements in collegiate newspapers and the use of cartoon characters in marketing campaigns is also prohibited.
Howie Long-Short: AGA members were wise to learn from others’ mistakes and to take a proactive approach to self-regulation. Slane says that “one of our takeaways [from following the gaming markets abroad] was that there was this consistent regulatory backlash to overt and persistent advertising and if we want to play the long game on sports betting – which we do – then we need to self-regulate to prevent what’s happened in the U.K., Belgium, Italy and Australia from happening here. Each of those countries has implemented (or is planning to implement) some sort of a ban on gambling advertising.
To be clear, the Responsible Marketing Code was designed to keep attorney generals and state legislatures at bay, not out of concern for the gambling addict. That’s not a criticism of the AGA – it’s unclear if there is even a direct correlation between advertising and problem gambling; and it’s not exactly as if the government’s actions are being done to protect the public. Slane says “the assumptions [governments] use to address this issue are often not even based in science, they’re policies instituted to address the perception of problem gambling. Silly rules like requiring that an ATM machine be at least 20 feet from the casino floor – as if that distance somehow gives problem gamblers the cooling off period needed to restrain themselves from withdrawing more money.”
The Responsible Marketing Code is a start, but there’s currently little in place to prevent AGA members from overstepping its boundaries. Slane said that “the hope is that phase two will add the teeth or the regulatory mechanism needed to review instances where advertising doesn’t fall in line with Association standards and to provide the follow through to bring members back in line.” Some might assume that the bylaws would hamstring AGA members in competition with unscrupulous licensees, but Slane believes that it provides her organization with the opportunity to “go to FTC or FCC and to point out the bad actors in the space that are causing the industry as a whole to be painted in negative brushstrokes.”
While all AGA members (operators & licensees) have agreed to abide by the terms of the Responsible Marketing Code, Slane explained that the only way to truly prevent overt and persistent advertising is to get the rights holders to act responsibly. It requires “getting the leagues, teams and broadcast community to take ownership of [the issues causing government intervention]. They’re the ones who are going to have to set frequency limitations because they’re the ones who control the pipes and tubes.”
Those critical of the code say that it doesn’t go far enough as it fails to address television or in-game advertising, but Slane said that “it’s one step at a time and the code can always be updated. Getting the industry to align behind the regulations as is, was not easy. Our members are all competitors and they’re hesitant to do to anything that might put them at a disadvantage. As far as TV is concerned, it’s a non-issue. We’re not at critical mass where you are going to see national ad campaigns. It’s too expensive and the advertising needs to be far more micro targeted.”
Fan Marino: Despite reports to the contrary, AGA members can advertise on college campuses. While advertising in the school paper is off limits, as long as it’s “tasteful and responsible” licensees can market to college students in other parts of campus life. Slane cited UNLV and Nevada (Reno) as proof that the casino industry could successfully work in tandem with administrators.
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