The American Gaming Association has set aside September 14-18 as Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW).
But for Casey Clark, the AGA’s senior vice president of strategic communications, “It’s always a good time to remind people where they can bet legally, with the protections of the legal market.”
That message may be more urgent now, due to the rapid expansion of legal online betting in the United States, the return of pro sports after a months-long drought, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused many sports bettors to shift to mobile.
“People have greater options to bet legally closer to home than ever before,” said Clark, “but there’s continued confusion about what that looks like: what’s legal and what’s not, where you can bet and how.”
The AGA is working to alert consumers who may unwittingly patronize offshore sportsbooks—operations that are illegal in the U.S., unregulated by any U.S. state, pay no taxes and create no U.S. jobs. Illegal bookies offer none of the consumer protections of the legal market, and may, in fact, subsidize criminal activity.
“The illegal market is pervasive and predatory,” Clark said. “Our research shows that American bettors overwhelmingly want legal options.”
Increasingly, they have them. Sports betting is now legal in 18 U.S. states, with more to come. And though the AGA website offers an up-to-date, interactive map of legal jurisdictions and sportsbooks—at americangaming.org/research/state-gaming-map/—it’s forced to compete with a digital universe of contradictory information.
Clearing the Confusion
Illegal sportsbooks based overseas—in places like Malta, Curacao and Costa Rica—advertise with impunity online, so much so that even media outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and ESPN have inadvertently promoted their services.
In a LinkedIn article in May, AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said mainstream publications “blur the lines between legal, regulated sports betting and the predatory, unregulated offshore market.”
He added that the illegal market, which in some cases has been used to launder money, fund the illegal drug trade and even underwrite human trafficking, has been given “the patina of credibility” by misinformed news media, who in turn misinform the betting public.
“People are able to find, access and bet on sites that look like licensed and regulated, but are preying on consumers,” said Clark.
‘Have a Game Plan, Bet Responsibly’
The goal of RGEW, said Clark, “is to make sure consumers know how to gamble responsibly, how and where to do it legally, and how to basically have fun with it. As mobilization spreads across the country, our goal is to have a program that’s easily adoptable by gaming operators, sports teams and leagues to help educate consumers.”
The campaign, called “Have a Game Plan, Bet Responsibly” shares four central principles with consumers:
- Set a budget and stick to it.
- Keep it social: play with friends, family, and colleagues.
- Be informed: learn the details of the games you’re playing.
- Play with trusted licensed, regulated operators.
The campaign also seeks to educate the sports industry, “which is really clear on the commercial opportunity,” said Clark, “but may be a little less clear on the responsibility side.”
To that end, the AGA is increasingly joining with sports partners—like the Las Vegas Golden Knights—to deliver the message, which is already being spread via digital ads at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
To kick off RGEW, the AGA activated the enforcement process associated with its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering.
The self-regulated, industry-wide program is overseen by a Code Compliance Review Board with two independent co-chairs and five AGA member representatives, including:
- Joe Bertolone, executive director, UNLV International Center for Gaming Regulation (co-chair)
- Becky Harris, distinguished fellow in gaming, UNLV International Gaming Institute (co-chair)
- Laura McAllister Cox, vice president of regulatory compliance and legal counsel, Rush Street Gaming
- Stephen Martino, senior vice president and chief compliance officer, MGM Resorts International
- Sharon Otterman, chief marketing officer, William Hill
- Paul Pellizzari, vice president, global social responsibility, Hard Rock
- Chris Soriano, vice president and chief compliance officer, Penn National Gaming
The Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering includes self-imposed restrictions on target audiences, outlets and materials branding, while mandating responsible gaming inclusion. The tenets of the code apply to traditional and digital media marketing activity for AGA members and non-members, according to a news release.
“Responsible Gaming Education Week provides a perfect opportunity to launch this important initiative, holding everyone accountable to a standard set by responsible operators,” said Miller. “By adhering to this code, U.S. sports betting operators are putting consumers first, and I’m thankful to the distinguished industry representatives on the compliance review board who will help raise the bar for the marketing of sports betting activity in the United States.”
“With programs like these, we have a game plan to educate consumers, let them know where they can safely play and be paid if they win,” said Clark. “It’s about everybody working together to get this right.”
Other organizations in gaming have also declared their support for RGEW.
The Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), with 184 member companies from 22 countries, said it’s an opportunity to get the word out about this important issue because the group has always supported responsible gaming.
AGEM’s efforts extend beyond education to include financial support of critical organizations and entities that provide problem gambling awareness, treatment and research. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, funding for problem gambling services in the state of Nevada was slashed this year by more than 40 percent. The AGEM-GLI Lasting Impact Philanthropic Initiative has stepped up with a $200,000 contribution over 2 years to the Dr. Robert Hunter International Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas. Moreover, AGEM has been a longstanding contributor to the International Center for Responsible Gaming, the National Council on Problem Gambling, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling and other worthy organizations.
Additionally, AGEM’s game plan involves networking with others to expand understanding of disordered gambling. Through the AGA’s Responsible Gaming Collaborative, AGEM has worked closely with other industry members, academic professionals and advocacy groups to chart a new course on the complex issue of responsible gaming.
“With the expansion of gaming that includes legal sports betting and new online activity, our commitment to responsible gaming is focused on continuing to work with regulators, operators and the problem gambling community to help ensure a safe and enjoyable gaming experience,” AGEM Executive Director Marcus Prater said. “We’re proud to have Connie Jones, one of the leading experts in this field, working for us as AGEM director of responsible gaming and providing both the AGEM Responsible Gaming Committee and the full membership with valuable guidance and insight.”
MGM Resorts also threw its support behind RGEW.
Stephen Martino, MGM’s senior vice president and chief compliance officer said, “At MGM Resorts, we are committed to responsible gaming year-round in our casinos and BetMGM Sportsbooks, both at our properties and through our mobile apps. We’re proud of how GameSense has grown with MGM Resorts and that it allows us to educate our guests and employees. Even during these challenging times, we remain dedicated to providing important information to ensure a positive gambling experience.”
MGM also announced the hiring of a responsible gaming program manager, Richard Taylor.
Taylor will lead the evolution of BetMGM’s responsible gaming platform to continue building a practical and user-friendly program that encourages players to adopt healthier mindsets that can reduce the risk of problem gambling. Additionally, Taylor will further develop the internal responsible gaming training program for BetMGM employees.
“I am humbled and honored to join the incredible team at BetMGM to help lead the company’s responsible gaming initiatives,” said Taylor. “This is an exciting and critical time for both the company and the industry. I am looking forward to the road ahead as we strive to ensure the best and safest experience possible for our customers.”
For complete information on Responsible Gaming Education Week, go to HaveAGamePlan.org.