Coloradans To Sportsbooks: Lay Off The Ads

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It’s been 18 months since Colorado regulators launched four sports betting operators in a world virtually devoid of sports or any other type of public gathering. And in that time, 25 sportsbooks have been vying for Coloradans’ attention — and some people have had enough.

“I thought that there was going to be at least some type of slowdown,” Alec Garnett, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, who sponsored the sports betting bill, told Westword. “We haven’t really seen that, and I have seen a big uptick in the number of complaints from the public that we’ve been having about the amount of sportsbook advertising.”

That advertising isn’t just annoying — it can encourage just the kind of negative effects that problem gambling advocates and those opposed to legal wagering worry about, drawing in people who can’t control their wagering.

“There is a real risk if advertising isn’t managed appropriately,” Brianne Doura-Schawhol, vice president for U.S. policy and strategic development at EPIC Risk Management, told CO Bets. “Not just from a content standpoint, but it’s also about the amount of ads. We know from research that advertising plays a significant role in gambling participation and gambling behavior. An overabundance of advertising could negatively expedite the normalization of gambling participation. It could cause harm by influencing folks who shouldn’t be gambling.”

Doura-Schawhol said concerns about too much advertising aren’t unique to Colorado. She pointed out several examples. including a lapse of advertising guidelines in the United Kingdom, a new caution against wagering ads in Sweden, and ongoing conversations among stakeholders in Australia, Italy, and Spain.

Could advertising end up being regulated?

While there currently isn’t any movement afoot in the state legislature to put additional guardrails around advertising, there are already rules preventing advertising and marketing to minors, those on the self-exclusion list, and other groups. And Colorado Division of Gaming Director Dan Hartman — whose agency regulates sports wagering, but doesn’t make decisions about how much or what kind of advertising operators should have — told Westword that operators would be wise to scale back voluntarily.

“I think that we’re seeing a lot because we’re in the infancy,” he said. “I think that advertising is going to settle in and become kind of commonplace, and not this whole bunch as everybody is getting into the business.

“It’s probably best that you all look at what you’re doing, because you really don’t want it regulated. You want to be able to operate in the free market and do what you’re doing.”

There are currently 25 live digital platforms and 17 retail sportsbooks in Colorado, which has one of the most open, competitive marketplaces in the U.S. Every major operator is represented, and BetMGM, BetRivers, DraftKings, and FanDuel were the first four to go live on May 1, 2020. Since then, new operators — including Circa and SuperBook, both making their first forays outside of Nevada — have been going live at a rate of nearly one per month.

Colorado traditionally light on RG funding

Colorado isn’t heralded among problem gambling advocates, because the state has traditionally earmarked little to handle addiction issues. For sports betting, only $130,000 of tax revenue is set aside for responsible gaming initiatives. For gambling as a whole, the state is ranked well below average in terms of dollars earmarked for problem gambling. When voters approved legal wagering in November 2019, the idea was that most of the proceeds would be funneled to the state’s water projects.

“Given the fact that Colorado has invested so little in the research, prevention, treatment, and recovery of gambling addiction, I fear for the massive harm that could result if no changes are made,” Doura-Schawhol said.

Since operators began taking bets in Colorado last year, six other states have opened for live wagering, with four others legalizing the practice but still waiting to launch. In the last month, operators began taking bets in Arizona, South Dakota, Washington State, and Wyoming. It’s likely that people in Connecticut will be able to begin placing bets within the next two weeks.

“I’m still hopeful that as other markets are starting to look at legislative solutions, the sportsbooks can see what’s coming and kind of naturally slow down,” Garnett said. “If it doesn’t happen and complaints continue to go up, it’s certainly a place where the legislature has gotten involved in the past, about what products could be advertised around marijuana and, obviously, tobacco.”

Jill has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country.

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