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Legalized sports betting is coming to California.
There are currently two statewide measures to legalize sports wagering that have qualified for the November ballot. A UC Berkeley poll conducted in February found that 45% of California voters support sports betting, while 22% are undecided and 33% are opposed. If even one-fourth of the undecided voters opt to support a ballot measure this November, sports betting will likely be legalized in the state.
The momentum that gambling legislation and ballot measures have gained in the past months and years is undeniable. 30 states have legal betting markets, nine more than last year; 11 states currently have a pending ballot question or pre-filed legislation related to expanded sports betting; and 29 million more Americans can legally bet on sports in their home state than this time last year. Even if, defying probability, no sports betting ballot measures pass this fall, there’s little doubt that California voters will eventually support such a measure.
The central benefit to passing sports betting legislation is simple: by legalizing, legitimizing, and regulating sports betting, we are able to adequately track the industry and its customers to ensure a safe, fun, and transparent space. Further, tax revenues from the activity can be dedicated to monitoring sports betting and funding research initiatives.
With that said, this expansion in opportunities will come with a corresponding need for gambling companies to protect their customers. No one will have a greater responsibility for addressing gambling addiction than the sports betting operators themselves.
The sports betting industry must deploy and embrace a comprehensive approach to responsible gambling. Just posting regulation-required 1-800 numbers is not enough: a comprehensive approach includes extensive education, continuing research, innovative technologies that provide warnings to players, and effective treatments that provide continuous support and therapy to problem gamblers.
These operators need to make substantive adjustments to their gambling products to more effectively track problematic gambling behavior. “Markers of protection,” or the range of data points that indicate addictive gambling behavior, should be fully incorporated into gambling companies’ compliance and safety practices.
Gambling companies also need to adjust their advertising practices to reduce exposure to vulnerable populations. This must be balanced with consideration for problem gamblers and the effect that extensive advertising can have on their well-being. Companies can direct their advertising placements to channels that allow users to opt out of gambling ads, enhance the portion of their ads dedicated to responsible gambling; and aggressively promote responsible gambling through all of their advertising channels.
Sports betting operators should also fund initiatives that actively educate gamblers and those in high-risk groups on the dangers of problem gambling and the steps one can take to limit their exposure. Entain Foundation U.S., for which I serve as a trustee alongside former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer and Martin Lycka, senior vice president for American regulatory affairs and responsible gambling at Entain, sponsors or partners with a range of responsible gambling organizations. Major gambling companies can and should donate millions of dollars, just a fraction of their profits, to protect the customers that pay their bills.
Responsible gambling can just as easily be referred to as “sustainable gambling,” and for one reason: in the absence of an industry-wide dedication to protecting consumers, sports betting operators will be plagued by crises. This is one clear example in which doing the right thing is also good business. I only hope that more sports betting executives will wake up to that reality.
It’s up to sports betting operators to ensure that sports betting is promoted thoughtfully and carefully. It’s the best way we can ensure a robust, sustainable, and profitable industry for all who occupy it.
William J. Pascrell III, Esq. (BP3) is a partner at Princeton Public Affairs Group, the largest statewide lobbying firm in the country; a trustee for Entain Foundation U.S., a nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible gambling, sports integrity and corporate compliance in the U.S.; and a globally-recognized gambling expert.