Social media has become a tool for many Pennsylvania sportsbooks, and any brand, to grow and gain a following. Sports betting companies are faced with a challenge to strike the right balance of light-hearted, fun content with being responsible at top of mind.
Responsible gambling has been a major point of emphasis in the gaming industry, for good reason. A gif of someone jumping off a cliff when the last leg of a parlay doesn’t hit is hardly a good way to promote responsible gambling. Luckily, those examples aren’t as prevalent as they once were.
PlayPennsylvania spoke with Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), about social media’s evolution in the gambling industry and why there’s reason for concern moving forward.
Sportsbook social media best practices for responsible gambling
The American Gaming Association (AGA) has a responsible marketing code in the 43 states it operates in. Members and non-AGA members adhere to the list of standards to promote responsible gambling.
One of the main compliance points that operators must address on social media is the legal age for sports wagering.
Whyte stated that the NCPG’s six-page internet responsible gaming standards is another method operators can use and apply to social media.
Some key takeaways from advertising and promotion standards:
- The operator has a clearly articulated commitment to advertising that does not mislead or target people with gambling problems or vulnerable populations such as minors.
- Advertising and promotions are not on any online pages that are geared towards responsible gambling.
- Advertising is not misleading about outcomes of gambling and does not misrepresent the odds of winning/losing.
Whyte said the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement “incorporated every single one of the provisions” into their responsible gambling regulations. He is encouraging all operators in every state to adopt the provisions. Pennsylvania, however, did not officially adopt any.
“We hope that everyone that operates in PA and also NJ, keeps those same high standards in PA,” Whyte said.
Language used on social media matters
There is certain language on social media that can send the wrong message from a responsible gambling standpoint.
Barstool Sportsbook has a parlay called ‘Big Cat’s Can’t Lose Parlay.’ Has it ever lost? Of course. Is a ‘can’t lose’ parlay something that should be promoted on social media?
“We have very, very strong objections to anyone promoting a ‘can’t miss’ pick or parlay or gambling opportunity,” Whyte said. “Most of the time it’s not true. It does miss and even if it doesn’t you cannot guarantee an outcome unless the game is rigged.”
Whyte filed a complaint to the AGA on Feb. 21, 2021, the only person to ever file one, claiming:
“The complaint alleged that by promoting a sports bet as ‘can’t lose,’ Barstool Sportsbook ‘directly violates’ the language of the code which states, “[n]o message should suggest that social, financial or personal success is guaranteed by engaging in sports wagering.”
Barstool Sportsbook responded that it disagreed with the complaint. The complaint process was closed on March 26, 2021, with no further action taken.
Barstool has continued to promote ‘Big Cat’s Can’t Lose Parlay’ on its sportsbook and Twitter page.
Whyte also said that language such as ‘risk free’ is a concern to responsible gambling.
FanDuel is one operator that listened to the NCPG. FanDuel recently changed a ‘risk free’ promotional bet to a ‘no sweat’ first bet for new users.
“We’re concerned about risk free because it’s not risk free and we’re hearing from people in recovery from gambling problems that it is having an impact, especially on new and young bettors who don’t really understand,” Whyte said. “They get these bonuses, they start betting in the thousands, they think it’s risk free and they’re getting wiped out really easily and early.”
Is social media helping or hurting the sports betting industry?
Social media has become so popular and widespread, messaging can reach countless people. That’s what makes social media good, bad and everything in between.
“There are some innovative efforts and innovative opportunities to reach, especially hard to reach populations like young males, digital natives. Those folks might be skeptical of traditional media,” Whyte said. “But the flip side, of course, is that the majority of messages in gambling Twitter are designed to glorify sports betting. It cuts both ways but right now the risks are far outweighing the responsibility.”
The memes and videos are considered fun and games for sportsbooks, but when a sportsbook posts a video of an individual bashing a TV or some other destructive behavior in reference to a bad beat, what message is being sent?
“They’re normalizing that this is what happens when you have a bad beat,” Whyte said.
On the flip side, there are clearly some efforts by operators to put out responsible gambling messaging besides disclaimers for 1-800-GAMBLER at the bottom of tweets. The following from PointsBet is a good example of one that emphasizes responsible gambling. Unfortunately, the positive examples are few and far between at this point.
Social media gambling messages can also impact kids
Whyte also worries about young, inexperienced gamblers that take a lot of what social media promotes at face value. There are also concerns about the number of underage gamblers that lie about their age.
“With content, how are you hitting the kids? Not just people that have gambling or social problems, but the kids,” Whyte said. “Once someone gets those incorrect ways of thinking about gambling and it gets hammered in their heads at a young age, it could be very hard to help them understand how odds really work.”
Going forward, gambling Twitter is going to be hard to police, Whyte said. The AGA Marketing Code is a great start for operators and gambling companies, but it doesn’t stop with them.
The influencers on social media are another gray area.
“While the AGA says it applies to everyone in the industry whether or not they are a member of the AGA, they have limited enforcement ability even over their own members, much less non-members. And nobody is regulating influencers, most people aren’t even regulating marketing affiliates. No one is clear what the line is between someone who’s selling picks or someone who’s working for a major network talking about their picks. Do they have to meet a code?
“I think the AGA code is good and it’s made for the commercial casino industry and there’s a lot of other players in the space, most of them who aren’t regulated as gambling companies, so we’re going to need a lot of different tools, guidelines, standards and layers to reach these other segments.”
What those specific guidelines are and who will police them are questions that remain for the industry.