Responsible Gaming Advocates Struggle To Counter Avalanche Of Gambling Ads

Written By Drew Ellis on March 7, 2022 - Last Updated on March 10, 2022
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In the world of addiction, avoiding temptation is often a key part of recovery.

For gambling addiction, that would include avoiding casinos and sportsbooks.

One temptation the gambling addict has had trouble avoiding over the last year is advertisements.

With more than $1 billion spent on sports betting advertising alone across the United States in 2021, getting away from the growing message has been difficult.

For Problem Gambling Awareness Month, advocates are pushing for limitations on advertising for gambling across all platforms. They would also like to combat the advertising with more promotion on problem gambling awareness.

Just how much gambling advertising is there?

Chances are you’ve seen your fair share of sports betting advertisements in the past year since online gaming was legalized in Michigan.

Advertisements come in a variety of forms, from TV commercials to radio plugs, push notifications, social media posts, and more.

It isn’t just Michigan seeing this surge in advertising, either. As new states continue to legalize sports betting, the impact is being seen nationwide.

According to Nielsen, advertising dollars spent by sports betting companies in 2021 hit $1.2 billion. That number is expected to grow to $2.1 billion in 2022.

The ads are also impacting local markets, not just national ones. Spending for online gambling at local US TV networks jumped from $10.7 million in the first quarter of 2019 to $154 million during the first quarter of 2021.

As we’ve seen in Michigan, the advertising is clearly working. Online sports betting handle for the state in 2021 was $3.7 billion. Online sports betting revenue was $292.2 million. Internet gaming revenue in 2021 was $1.1 billion.

It’s also been productive for local media outlets. Analysts are predicting that gambling ads could drive as much as $587 million in ad revenue to local TV networks by 2024.

Increase the advocacy for help

In order to raise awareness for problem gambling, advocates would like to fight fire with fire.

While they know they can’t match the volume of the advertising generated by sportsbooks and casinos, they feel there can be a larger effort made for their voices to be heard.

“The barrage of advertisements is one of the main concerns that we’re facing in regards to increasing awareness and making sure the Michigan public gets all the information they need, not only about gambling, but the potential for problematic gambling and the services that we offer,” Alia Lucas, a gambling disorder prevention and treatment program specialist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said.

The MDHHS is putting forth $1.4 million for the 2022 fiscal year (Oct. 2021-Sept. 2022) toward promoting responsible gambling in advertisements. Part of that funding comes from the $1 million ($500,000 apiece from sports betting and internet gaming) in tax money that was earmarked specifically toward problem gambling from the state’s expanded gambling laws.

Among the advertising plans from the MDHHS include:

  • 52 weeks of radio spots and TV spots throughout the Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association and Michigan Association of Broadcasters
  • 24 weeks of Connected TV ads (Smart TV, Roku, Sling, Amazon, etc.)
  • 12 weeks of outdoor displays including high-impact visuals near Michigan casinos
  • 15 weeks of Gas Station TV ads in 801 total gas stations, covering 9,226 screens
  • 36 weeks of social media advertisements

The goal of the ad campaigns will be to urge people with a gambling problem, or family members of a problem gambler to call the MDHHS Problem Gambling Helpline (1-800-270-7117) or visit Michigan.gov/ProblemGambling for more information.

They also aim to help educate gamers and parents about how online gambling can evolve into a gambling problem.

More hands on deck?

Getting the responsible gaming message out isn’t as simple as just saying it will get done.

Funding for the message is heavily outweighed by the amount of advertising and accessibility to gambling.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognizes problem gambling as an addictive disorder along with substance abuse.

However, nationally, substance abuse was 334x more publicly funded than problem gambling services in the past year. That’s with substance abuse addiction only being 3.8x more prevalent than gambling addiction.

According to the National Council on Public Gambling, in a 2016 national survey, Michigan ranked 21st out of 50 states in terms of per capita public funds dedicated to problem gambling services. The average per capita allocation of public funds for problem gambling services in the 40 states with publicly funded services was 37 cents in 2016; Michigan’s per capita public investment was 23 cents.

As we reported previously, calls to the MDHHS Problem Gambling Helpline tripled in the last year. While we broke down just what that actually means in regard to an increase in problem gambling, it still does indicate a growing interest and need for the service.

With the calls increasing for whatever the matter, more staffing may be required. That would cut into the already limited funding dollars.

One way to help overcome the lack of funds is for a unified message from all advocates, according to Lucas.

“It’s not just about the Department of Health and Human Services, but also the Michigan state lottery, and the Michigan Gaming Control Board,” she said. “We’ve all recognized that there is a need for increased awareness, not only about gambling disorder, but responsible gaming, as well.”

Operators contributing as well

An easy thing to do is to push the blame on sportsbooks for the abundance of advertisements.

In the Nielsen study, analysts predict that DraftKings and FanDuel will spend $400 million on ads in the next three years.

But, operators are aware of the dangers of gambling addiction and making efforts to help promote responsible gambling.

FanDuel debuted a new responsible gaming ad campaign that started at the beginning of March. It also donated $100,000 to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

“We’re fully committed at FanDuel to developing useful tools and programs that make a difference in responsible gaming,” said Adam Warrington, Vice President of Responsible Gaming, FanDuel Group. “Our new ad campaign aims to bring an important spotlight to our player control tools that help customers keep sports betting fun and entertaining.”

The ad campaign will focus on FanDuel’s “Play Well” site that provides responsible gaming tools that include:

  • Deposit Limits
  • Wager Limits
  • Maximum Wager Size Limits
  • Time Limits
  • Self-Exclusion from gaming on all FanDuel sites

Caesars Sportsbook recently announced it will be cutting back its marketing efforts immediately following an EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) loss of $305 million in Q4 of 2021.

Caesars does remain committed to continue to promote responsible gambling.

“As our industry evolves, we are doing the same in our approach to improving our responsible gaming program in real-time,” Caesars said in a statement. “From the first-ever responsible gaming ad spot airing during NFL games and around the Super Bowl, to our national self-exclusion program for brick & mortar casino gaming, and the extensive tools we have available on the Caesars Sportsbook app – it’s not a subject we take lightly.”

What other countries have done

Long before the United States expanded into legalized sports betting, our friends overseas were dealing with similar advertising concerns.

In the US, each state is operating under different laws when it comes to gambling policies. No two states have determined sports betting the same way in regard to what is allowed and what’s not.

While nationwide changes or limitations to sports betting advertising isn’t likely, it is common in other countries.

Currently, the United Kingdom finds itself undergoing plans to overhaul their gambling regulations in regard to sponsorships. They found advertising was a significant motivator for gamblers.

In Spain, the government has banned soccer sponsorships from gambling operators. Spain also banned gambling ads on radio and TV except between 1-5 a.m. Promotional bonuses are also now prohibited with the exception of verified customers.

Australia has restricted ads for live sports broadcasts between 5 a.m.-8:30 p.m., as well as any programs directed at children between the same times. It also has banned gambling with credit cards.

If gambling advertising does get out of control, or is perceived by lawmakers to target youths, we could see the US follow in the footsteps of these other countries.

For the time being, concentrated efforts to self-police by the stakeholders, along with promoting responsible gambling, is a step in the right direction.

If you or anyone you know needs help with their gambling-related issue, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-270-7117.

Photo by Associated Press
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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