Television viewers in the United Kingdom were bombarded with sports gambling advertisements during last year’s World Cup, with a Guardian study finding that one in six commercials that aired during ITV’s coverage of the tournament’s first 30 games was a pitch by a sports betting company. This saturation, the result of a loophole in the country’s advertising laws that allowed such advertisements before 9 p.m. only during sporting events, led to concerns about how much of this advertising was being consumed by children, and it led to change: In December, the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling, a trade association comprising online gambling companies in the UK, announced a voluntary “whistle to whistle” ban on gambling advertisements during sporting events, even those that take place before 9 p.m.
Unlike in the UK, where sports betting has long been legal, sports gambling in the United States was only recently legalized on a nationwide scale when the Supreme Court last year struck down the federal law that limited the practice.
One year to the day after that ruling, the American Gaming Association, an advocacy group for gambling interests in the United States, on Tuesday unveiled its “Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering,” an attempt by the budding sports-gambling industry to get ahead of any possible complications that may arise from increased advertising of their product.
In the new code, the AGA directed its members to adhere to certain standards when advertising their wares, including a ban on targeting children via cartoon characters and a prohibition on advertising in any venue “where most of the audience . . . is reasonably expected to be below the legal age for sports wagering”; a ban on advertisements in college newspapers; and a prohibition on sales pitches that “promote irresponsible or excessive participation in sports wagering” and those suggesting “that social, financial or personal success is guaranteed by engaging in sports wagering.”
“We want to make sure that it positions us well for the future of gaming,” Sara Slane, the AGA’s senior vice president of public affairs, said in a telephone interview. “We want to be thought of as ahead of the curve.”
Slane said the AGA took its cues from other industry groups representing adult-oriented products and services, such as DISCUS (the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States) and the Beer Institute (a trade association for the U.S. brewing industry). Both groups have stringent codes that their members must adhere to, asking that they refrain from advertising that suggests breaking the law (i.e., targets underage drinkers) or promotes inappropriate consumption. Both groups also operate compliance review boards, where complaints about beer advertising are adjudicated.
The AGA’s marketing code calls for its members to adopt “an internal review process” to determine whether gambling advertisements comply with the code.
Slane added that the gambling industry wanted to avoid the headaches encountered by DraftKings and FanDuel, the country’s two main daily-fantasy sports companies, earlier this decade. After the two companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on television advertising in 2015, swamping the airwaves during that year’s NFL season, the state of New York sued both, alleging that they misled consumers about their chances of winning and about deposit bonuses they offered. in 2016, DraftKings and FanDuel settled with the state, with each paying $6 million.
“We’re center stage with now with sports gambling,” Slane said. “We want to be thoughtful with how we go about doing that."
Other nations with legalized gambling have started to crack down on advertising, some to an extreme measure. In Italy, all gambling advertising was banned starting Jan. 1 amid worries about increased rates of addiction, and sports teams will be prohibited from receiving sponsorship money from casino companies after their current deals expire. (More than half of the clubs in Italy’s top-level Serie A soccer league have such deals, which are worth millions of dollars.) Belgium has banned online casino operators from advertising, and sports betting companies can advertise on television only after 8 p.m. and never during live sporting events.
Australia last year banned all gambling advertisements during live sports broadcasts between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., though certain cable companies (including the versions of ESPN that are broadcast Down Under) were exempted from the law.
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