National efforts to curb or eliminate dubious behaviors by the legal sports betting industry are slowly taking shape in New Jersey.
Either voluntarily or by force, it appears sportsbooks in NJ are adopting new ways of doing business in response to increasing concerns about who gambling companies are targeting as customers and how they are going about it. However, the state is MIA in regards to putting legal restrictions on NJ gambling ads and marketing.
When it comes to the sportsbooks, that loud chorus of voices asking, “What took so long?” comes from residents and proponents of responsible gambling in NJ.
The Garden State has been overwhelmed with sports gambling propaganda since 2018. NJ was caught in the crosshairs of aggressive campaigns to capture the larger markets when neighbors Pennsylvania and New York legalized online sports betting in 2019 and 2022.
National wave of sports betting legalization causing ripple effect
Now, federal lawmakers, regulatory agencies and industry lobbyists are calling for stricter sports betting marketing and advertising guidelines. The language used to attract and retain customers, the frequency of advertisements and the boundaries between colleges and gambling companies are all coming under fire nearly five years after the widespread legalization of sports betting in the US.
The American Gaming Association, the Washington D.C.-based lobbying group, recently released updated guidelines for legal operators. It included banning the use of all language implying a bet is “risk-free,” changing references of “legal gambling age” to “21-plus,” and prohibiting sportsbooks from paying college athletes.
Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA, said its members — which include most major US gambling companies — are committed to “a high bar for responsible advertising.”
Miller added, “Advertising plays an essential role in migrating consumers away from predatory illegal sportsbooks and into the protections of the legal, regulated market while providing responsible gaming resources. The AGA and our members are committed to building a sustainable marketplace that protects vulnerable populations and gives consumers the knowledge and tools to keep sports betting fun for adults.”
Before the AGA’s proclamation, most NJ sportsbooks reviewed by PlayNJ had voluntarily removed references to “free” bets or “risk-free” wagers within the last few weeks.
New gambling states lead the charge in responsible advertising
While New Jersey has not taken any formal steps, other states such as Ohio and Massachusetts are leading the charge from a regulatory standpoint. Some legislators in New York want to ban sports betting commercials. And a Senator from Connecticut is openly questioning the relationships between sports betting operators and colleges.
The NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement has not weighed in on the hot-button issue. To date, the NJDGE has not issued any directives or memos to gambling operators about excessive, misleading or age-appropriate marketing and advertising.
The AC Boardwalk is surprisingly free of excessive gambling ads
The NJ Legislature is considering a handful of actions aimed at riding the national wave of momentum toward reining in some of the sports betting industry’s less-favorable behaviors.
An Assembly resolution objecting to the “overproliferation of pro-gambling advertisements” narrowly passed (4-3) a committee in March.
The resolution’s primary sponsor, ex-Asm. Ralph Caputo is a former Atlantic City casino executive. (Caputo resigned from the NJ Assembly on March 22, 2023.) He characterized recent gambling advertising as “obnoxious” and “obscene.”
Conversely, Asm. Don Guardian, a former mayor of Atlantic City (2014-2018), voted against the resolution. He reasoned that internet gambling and sports betting were still in their “infancy.”
“The only way that they expand is to advertise, and the more advertising they do, the better they do,” Guardian told NJ Monitor. “So I can’t be hypocritical if, as a state, we’re so excited about having internet and sports gaming and collecting 200-plus million dollars in taxes just on those two types of gaming, and then say no, the one way that you can’t promote it is to advertise.”
The resolution is non-binding and, ultimately, amounts to little more than a public statement of record.
NJ considers banning sportsbook partnerships with colleges
Another NJ proposal wants to ban partnerships between sports gambling operators and public colleges. The bill lacks enough detail to be seriously considered but it’s a stepping stone for future discussions.
U.S. Sen. Chris Bluementhal, CT, is making a similar plea on the national stage. The Democratic lawmaker sent letters to 66 schools demanding answers about financial arrangements and responsible gambling resources on campus.
The University of Colorado ended a multi-year partnership with PointsBet Sportsbook shortly after news broke of the senator’s efforts.
In NJ, the boundaries between sports gambling and college athletics are complicated.
State law bans licensed sportsbooks from offering odds on NJ colleges or any college event taking place in the state, such as the Metro Atlantic Athlethic Conference basketball tournament in Atlantic City. Yet, the MAAC announced Tipico Sportsbook, which is licensed in NJ, as an official partner.
NJ voters overwhelmingly rejected a chance to overturn NJ’s sports betting ban on in-state schools and events in 2021.