Thirty states have live, legal betting markets, nine more than last year. Another five have legal, not-yet-operational markets, and three more have active or pre-filed gambling legislation or ballots in 2022. 29 million moreAmericans can legally wager in their home state than this time last year, and every major gambling company reported record betsplaced on Super Bowl LVI.
There is no question that the United States is currently undergoing a massive cultural, regulatory and financial shift toward gambling. With this surge comes a parallel need to address the threat of problem gambling.
More than five million Americans meet the criteria for gambling addiction.
Problem gambling is a unique addiction compared to substance abuse disorders in that it almost universally imposes financial challenges for addicts and their loved ones. The effects are obvious, chronic, and – most importantly – avoidable.
Regulatory boards, federal and state governments, and even consumers themselves have a role to play in ensuring the safety of gamblers. No group bears a greater responsibility, however, than gambling companies themselves.
Operators have full control over their products, and as such, countless shifts can be made to reduce the likelihood and impact of problematic gambling behavior, from player safeguards to incentive limitations. To successfully implement these changes, however, operators need to be understandthe long-term consequences of problem gambling on their survival as an industry.
One need look no further than the social media industry for an example of companies failing to protect their customers and paying the price. Facebook faced countless criticismsand constant public scrutiny for years due to its inability, or lack of interest, in sufficiently addressing threats posed to its users, ultimately shifting its strategy and name to focus on building a metaverse. Despite this tenuous attempt to distract shareholders and the public at large from Facebook’s myriad controversies, the company lives in a perpetual state of crisis. Nowhere is this more evident than in its stock performance: on September 10th of last year, Meta stock was valued at $378.69 per share. As of May 31st of this year, it sits at $196.74.
The lesson from Facebook and other social media companies that have failed to address threats to their consumers is clear: for an industry to thrive, it must protect its customers.
Gambling companies should take heed of this warning and address problem gambling accordingly. The industry must deploy and embrace a comprehensive approach to responsible gambling. Simply posting 1-800 numbers, which are required by regulation, is not enough. A comprehensive approach that includes continuing research, massive education, innovative technology tools, and effective treatment is crucial to ensuring the safety of all gamblers.
Operators need to make large-scale adjustments to their gambling products to more effectively track problematic gambling behavior. “Markers of protection,” or the range of data points that indicate addictive gambling behavior, should be fully incorporated into gambling companies’ compliance and safety practices.
Further, gambling companies need to align their advertising practices to reduce exposure to vulnerable populations. Advertisers’ interest in bolstering their revenue and customer base must be balanced with a consideration of the effect that extensive advertising can have on problem gamblers’ psyches. Companies can redirect their advertising to channels that allow users to opt out of gambling ads. Among the changes made are online display advertisements, enhancing the portion of their ads dedicated to responsible gambling and more aggressively promoting responsible gambling, in and of itself, through all of their communications channels.
Industry operators should also fund initiatives that are actively educating gamblers and those in high-risk groups on the dangers of problem gambling and the steps one can take to limit their exposure. Entain Foundation US, for which I serve as a Trustee alongside Martin Lycka, SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain Plc, and former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, sponsorsor partners with a range of responsible gambling organizations. These include EPIC Risk Management, which facilitates “lived experience” responsible gambling classes across the country. Kindbridge is an independent virtual clinic that provides mental health services to people suffering difficulties related to gambling and gaming. There is also the NFLPA Professional Athletes Foundation, a provider of financial assistanceand counseling for former NFL players to create, market, and launch live and virtual educational programs for NFLPA members.
Academic research must play a central role in addressing problem gambling and ensuring comprehensive self-regulation on the part of gambling companies. To that end, we invested $5 million in a multi-year partnership with the Harvard Medical School Faculty at the Division on Addiction, providing Harvard with access to anonymized player data across a range of our brands, and partnered with the UNLV International Gaming Institute to provide information to legislators and regulators about sports integrity, youth gamblingimpact, illegal marketplaces and Americans’ perception of gambling.
Education continues to serve as a crucialcomponent of responsible gambling programs. Entain Foundation US partnered with the Seton Hall University School of Lawto establish an annual multi-day gaming, integrity and compliance educational Bootcamp, as well as former NBA All-Star Charles Oakley’s “Oak Out Hunger”community project, which provides education in responsible gambling with other forms of support to impoverished, underprivileged communities facing hunger, addiction and economic challenges in cities across the US. The project further promotes Gamble Responsibly America, a cutting-edge mobile app that educates users on safe gambling habits, and Wager Score, a new platform that rewards responsible gamblers by converting 1% of every dollar bet into charitable tax deductible donations for social causes.I often refer to responsible gambling as “sustainable gambling,” and for one reason: in the absence of an industry-wide, genuine focus on promoting responsible gambling and protecting consumers, the gambling industry will be plagued by the same crises that Facebook and other social media companies have been subject to for years. This is one clear example in which doing the right thing is also good business. I only hope that more gambling executives will wake up to that reality in the weeks and months ahead.