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A nation of Nevadas?

TRENDING | As the gambling industry floods consumers with ads for sports betting, some legislators voice concerns

Illustration by John Jay Cabuay

A nation of Nevadas?
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“What are the odds of our existence?” asks a gambling commercial for FanDuel Sportsbook. “The odds of a cosmic explosion, into life forming, into evolution?” The commercial then speculates about the odds of the viewer’s parents meeting, of the viewer being born, and of such everyday events as waking up on time, running out of gas, or being able to fix an outside antenna safely during a storm.

“So what is life but chance, and every moment in it a bet?” the announcer asks before promising that betting on NFL games through FanDuel will “make every moment more.”

Only a few years ago, fans could watch a football game on television without seeing such a commercial, because sports gambling in the United States was relegated to Nevada and to informal office pools. But the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a law that prohibited betting on sports in most states, and states began legalizing sports ­betting in hopes of gaining tax revenue. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have now approved sports betting, and the gambling industry has responded with an explosion of growth in advertising to new populations of potential gamblers. But legislators in some states are starting to express concern about gambling ads.

The growth of advertising dollars dedicated to attracting gamblers over the past few years has been phenomenal. In 2021, gambling operators spent $1 billion in online advertising. For 2022, such spending was projected to increase 80 percent to $1.8 ­billion, according to BIA Advisory Services. As for television advertising, Nielsen reports that industry spending grew from $292 ­million in 2020 to $725 million in 2021.

The industry spends big because it produces results. In the United Kingdom, a study by the Gambling Commission found that 6 in 10 consumers see gambling advertisements or sponsorships at least once a week, and that one-third of U.K. gamblers admit to being prompted to gamble by advertising. About 1 in 6 U.K. adults now follow gambling companies on social media.

Industry data suggest something similar is happening in the United States. According to Statista, sports-betting revenue for the U.S. gambling industry grew from $430 ­million in 2018 to $4.33 billion in 2021, a tenfold increase. In 2022, sports-betting ­revenue had reached $5.4 billion by October. That same month, Illinois became the fourth state in the country to reach $1 billion in sports-betting “handle” (total amount wagered) in a single month—up 24 percent over September. Overall, through October 2022, Americans gambled $69.5 billion on sports this year. But it isn’t only the ubiquity of gambling advertising that concerns industry critics and some legislators; it’s the method. Gambling marketers have adopted the strategy of drug pushers: Lure new potential addicts by offering the first hit for free.

A man displays the DraftKings sports betting app on his iPhone.

A man displays the DraftKings sports betting app on his iPhone. Ted Hsu/Alamy

FanDuel, for instance, offers new customers up to $1,000 in risk-free bets (the gambler gets the winnings if he wins, and he gets his $1,000 back if he loses). DraftKings offers $200 in free bets to users who download the company’s app and bet $5 on an NFL game. (One DraftKings commercial stars comedian Kevin Hart. A commercial for Caesars Sportsbook stars NFL ­legends Eli, Peyton, and Archie Manning.)

“You can’t turn on the radio or can’t turn on any sporting event without being inundated with offers of free bets,” New York state Sen. Pete Harckham told The New York Times. A 2019 study reported in ScienceDirect even found gambling commercials during children’s programming.

The avalanche of gambling advertising has prompted concerns within some state legislatures that have recently legalized sports gambling. In New York, Harckham is sponsoring a bill to strengthen regulation of free bet offers. In Kansas, state lawmakers passed, and Gov. Laura Kelly signed, a bill in May to legalize sports betting. But now legislators are reportedly revisiting provisions—inserted in the bill by industry lobbyists—that offer tax breaks for gambling promotion.

In California, perhaps the bluest state in the union, a proposition to legalize online sports betting garnered only 17 percent support on Election Day. Overseas, the push to regulate gambling advertising is well-advanced in some places. Ireland bans gambling ads before 9:00 p.m. and prohibits offers for free bets altogether. Also, for online advertising, users must opt in so that ads don’t arrive unsolicited.

You can’t turn on the radio or can’t turn on any sporting event without being inundated with offers of free bets.

But as the gambling industry gears up for its biggest event of the year—the Super Bowl, on Feb. 12—some see an opportunity to speed the push to turn the United States into a nation of Nevadas. The reason: Five of the top 10 contenders for the Super Bowl are from states that do not allow sports betting, and fans of those teams may create political pressure for legalization.

“Is it possible,” writes Grant Mitchell for VegasSlotsOnline, “that states will have their hands forced into passing legislation?”

Those states include large population centers such as Texas and California. If they legalize sports betting, the flood of advertising dollars could become a tsunami.

What odds would FanDuel suggest for that?

Timothy Lamer

Tim is executive editor of WORLD Commentary. He previously worked for the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va. His work has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Weekly Standard.


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