Pennsylvania gambling regulators are taking a page out of neighboring state Ohio’s playbook.
Ohio launched sports betting in January this year and has already issued harsh fines to online operators in the state. The state has been strict on promotional language, a stance that Pennsylvania just recently adopted.
While Pennsylvania casinos enjoy a much more mature market, pitfalls such as those in Ohio should be less frequent by now.
But as the gambling landscape expands, regulators owe a big responsibility to push responsible gambling in Pennsylvania.
How industry growth can impact problem gambling
The more options people have, and the more convenient they are, the more likely it is for people to develop gambling problems. There are 14 PA sportsbooks in the Keystone state to go along with 18 PA online casinos.
The Council on Compulsive Gambling of PA (CCGP) reported a continued increase in “intakes,” or calls for help, to 1-800-GAMBLER in 2022. Last year’s volume was more than double the base line of calls from before Pennsylvania’s online casino launch in 2019.
“When we look at the data collectively, we have to look at what’s most accessible and by far the online options are far more accessible than anything we’ve seen before,” Josh Ercole, executive director of the CCGP told PlayUSA. “People are now able to play at a very high frequency, and that’s where we see some of these problems start.”
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) said in its Fiscal Year 2021/2022 Report that up to 10 online casinos could launch in the future, with three expected to launch within the next few months.
Parx Casino Shippensburg is the latest retail casino to open in Pennsylvania, giving area gamblers yet another option. The new casino is located 2.3 miles away from Shippensburg University.
Bally’s Casino near Penn State University is scheduled to be the next mini-casino built in Pennsylvania, pending legal disputes.
Would higher fines on Pennsylvania operators make a difference?
Before Ohio’s official launch of legal sports betting, the state issued fines to four operators who were engaged in pre-launch marketing.
Penn Entertainment accepted a $250,000 fine for promoting the Barstool Sportsbook app during a college football show near the University of Toledo. Not everyone in attendance was over Ohio’s legal betting age of 21 during the show’s broadcast.
DraftKings Sportsbook accepted two fines totaling $500,000. One was for allegedly mailing ads to individuals under 21. The other was for two reasons: problem gambling messaging didn’t meet the state’s requirements and promotional bet credits were described as “free”.
BetMGM Sportsbook and Caesars Sportsbook also received fines in Ohio for similar infractions as DraftKings.
Pennsylvania issued a $7,500 fine back in December to Hollywood Casino Morgantown, the casino operator partner to BetMGM, for accepting bets on an unapproved exhibition fight between Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort. It was the first fine that Pennsylvania has levied a fine for unapproved online wagers.
Pennsylvania has only issued four fines to online operators since launching, according to the PGCB.
One of Pennsylvania’s problem areas, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), is advertising and promotion. Last month, the NCPG released grades for responsible online gambling standards in the six states where online casinos are available.
Though Pennsylvania graded well, it failed in these two areas for advertising and promotion:
- Operator to have clearly articulated commitment to responsible advertising
- Operator to not advertise product on responsible gambling pages
Pennsylvania starting to crack down on advertising
The PGCB sent out a memo that ordered online sports betting operators to stop using the term “free bet.”
Though most PA sportsbooks stopped using the term on their own, the PGCB wanted consistency across the industry.
“Some patrons could have misconstrued the language and we felt that was a concern for us,” PGCB Deputy Director of Communications Richard McGarvey told PlayPennyslvania earlier this week. “Additionally, some operators stopped using that terminology and we wanted it to be consistent across the board.”
Pennsylvania launched online gambling in 2019. It is finally on the same page as Ohio when it comes to responsible gambling messaging. Massachusetts, which launched online sports betting last week, also banned the term “free” in marketing materials.
Ohio’s stiff fines totaling at least $750,000 already are in stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s. The PGCB has handed out only four fines to online gambling operators in four years.
While fines may not be necessarily the answer for everything, the PGCB has a responsibility to keep problem gambling under control in the state. Will Pennsylvania’s new commitment mean harsher fines for operators that break rules?