April 28, 2020 Sports Betting

Debate: Will US sports betting advertising have a negative impact?

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Owain Flanders, Iqbal Johal and Tim Poole put forward their arguments as to whether increased gambling sponsorship in US sports might have a negative impact on public opinion towards the industry. This article was first published in the March/April edition of Gaming America.

Yes - Owain Flanders

The US only has to take a look across the Atlantic for a perfect example of how increased gambling advertising can negatively impact public opinion against the industry.

Much like the US, the UK is a nation of sports fans - sport which is now intrinsically linked with the gambling industry through sponsorship deals. In the English Premier League this season, 10 out of 20 teams bear the branding of a gambling company, the joint highest number ever. In the Championship league below, this number rises to 17 out of 24 teams, meaning nearly 60% of clubs in England’s top two divisions have betting partnerships this season. Stadiums are also adorned with gambling branding, while those watching on television will be inundated with gambling advertisements before and after kick-off.

It is no coincidence that at the same time gambling advertisement is at an all time high in the UK, public perception of the industry seems to be at an all time low. Anti-gambling sentiment is persistent in mainstream media, with industry criticism coming from all areas. With this comes increased pressure on the Gambling Commission and government to introduce tighter regulation, which has ultimately resulted in a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban on half-time gambling advertisements, and could well lead to more dramatic restrictions moving forward.

Last year saw a flurry of gambling sponsorships in US sports as operators sealed partnerships with leagues, teams and sporting arenas. There is an understandable buzz in the US sports betting market right now, but if caution is not taken then a very familiar future could be in store for the US gambling industry.

Speaking at a sports betting conference last year, Keith O’Loughlin, SVP Sportsbook and Platforms at Scientific Games Digital, insisted that “gambling is culturally a lot more accepted in the US.” But while this might hold truth at the moment, how long will it be until US sports fans begin to notice the encroaching influence of gambling sponsorship on their favourite sports? When New York Knicks fans turn up to watch their team at a DraftKing’s-sponsored Madison Square Garden next season; will resentment begin to form in their minds?

If the US industry wants to prevent itself from falling into the same trap as its more mature, but far from perfect, cousin across the pond; operators should take a step back and consider a different approach. When public opinion can be so easily and lastingly swayed, a little more caution is needed.

Yes – Iqbal Johal

Sports betting in the UK and the US are in very different stages. In fact, you could compare them to an old married couple and two newlyweds who are blinded by love.

After many glorious years of legal betting in the UK, it now seems to be at a crossroads, with the wider public virtually sick of the sight of it.

At the other end of the spectrum is US sports betting, which became legalized in May 2018. After years of trying to get approval for its go ahead, sports betting in the US is very much in the honeymoon stage - an exciting period, with betting widely accepted in the states it’s legalized in. That means we’re someway removed from the apathy, the over-exposure and frankly ill feeling towards sports betting found in the UK.

As Owain mentioned, with such a high percentage of clubs in the top two divisions having betting companies as their main sponsor and the countless number of adverts promoting betting in stadiums and on television, it’s unsurprising there’s going to be negative public sentiment towards gambling. This is only worsened by the fact that, according to figures from the Gambling Commission’s 2018/19 annual report, 24 million adults gamble in the UK, with more than two million of those at either high or low risk of problem gambling. With this in mind, it is evident why public perception of sports betting and gambling in general is at its lowest point in the UK.

This anti-gambling sentiment is why countless new regulatory changes have been pushed through by the Gambling Commission in recent times, with added concern and debate as to whether the amount of sponsorship from betting companies in sport should be limited, or even banned.

Currently, the US public are generally ignorant to issues that could arise in the future – much like a newly married couple. Over time, as the public and sports betting grow more tiresome of each other, and sports betting sponsorships inevitably flood into all the North American major leagues, then we might be having the same debates in the US as we are now having in the UK.

But as for now, let the innocence of this new found relationship blossom.

No - Tim Poole

We have all seen the pitfalls of an abundance of advertising and sponsorship in the UK market. Even if regulators don’t act – we are realistically expecting them to in due course – all members of the public seem to do when it comes to sports betting adverts is complain about how many they see.

But, while my colleagues have raised reasonable and valid concerns about the potential dangers of over-sponsorship and advertising regulation, I can envisage the situation panning out rather differently in the US. Firstly, the public sentiment is far more pro-gambling in the US than it is in the UK, and the excitement and momentum of the fledgling sports betting markets opening up state-by-state is creating a completely different atmosphere across the Atlantic Ocean.

Admittedly, this atmosphere can change with time. The UK market is mature and saturated; a few more years of similar advertising volumes in the US may well end up creating the same problems. But, should US gambling companies approach with both caution and care, they can avoid these kinds of issues in future.

Sure, there is a rush now to partner with every team, stadium and league possible. Once that initial onslaught is over though, operators can learn from the lessons of the UK and tread with caution. Responsible gambling is already promoted far more in the US, compared to the reactionary stance many UK operators take. Meanwhile, the American Gaming Association is far better at vocalizing the industry’s point of view than anything to date in the UK (the Betting and Gaming Council is trying to change this).

Naturally, we can’t have DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM or William Hill dominating every bit of televized, online or social media space in the US. But I am confident the US market will learn from the gaming industry’s mistakes of its past on other continents. After all, some of the biggest players in the market have partnerships and joint ventures with UK-facing companies (or indeed operate in both countries themselves).

Sure, over-advertising and sponsorship could become an issue in the US some day. The two factors working in the sector’s favour however, are the positive public sentiment pervading the US – simply non-existent in the UK at present – and the fact firms can learn exactly what not to do based on the actions of their European predecessors.

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