PA Regulators and Responsible Gambling Practices in Expanding Market

Gambling regulators in the Keystone State are looking into neighboring Ohio as role models.

Ohio allowed sports betting in January and already had several harsh fines issued to online operators. Neighboring regulators focused strictly on promotional language, which PA counterparts recently adopted in their approach.

Because Pennsylvania casinos operate on a much more developed and matured market, similar pitfalls shouldn’t occur as frequently. Simultaneously, with the expansion of the gambling landscape, regulating bodies have an incredible responsibility to push for responsible gambling in PA.

How Can Expansion Increase Problem Gambling?

As the number of available gambling options and their convenience increase, so does the likelihood of individuals developing gambling problems. Pennsylvania’s Keystone state has 14 sportsbooks and 18 online casinos.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of PA (CCGP) has reported a rise in the number of “intakes” or calls for assistance to 1-800-GAMBLER in 2022. Last year’s volume of calls was over two times the baseline volume prior to the launch of online casinos in Pennsylvania in 2019.

Josh Ercole from CCGP says that data suggest online availability makes people play with high frequency, causing the problem.

On the other hand, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, in a previous report, stated that up to 10 new online casinos could open in the future, and three are expected in the next few months.

Area gamblers in Pennsylvania now have another option with the opening of Parx Casino Shippensburg, the latest retail casino to open. The new casino is situated 2.3 miles from Shippensburg University. Pending legal disputes, the next mini-casino set to be constructed in Pennsylvania is Bally’s Casino, located near Penn State University.

Could Higher Fines Make a Difference for PA Gambling Providers?

Ohio issued fines to four operators even before the official launch of sports betting due to pre-launch marketing operations.

Penn Entertainment has agreed to pay a $250,000 fine for promoting the Barstool Sportsbook app during a college football show near the University of Toledo. Not all attendees were over Ohio’s legal betting age of 21 during the broadcast.

DraftKings Sportsbook was fined twice, totaling $500,000, once for allegedly mailing ads to individuals under 21 and the other for failing to meet state requirements for problem gambling messaging and describing promotional bet credits as “free.”

BetMGM Sportsbook and Caesars Sportsbook also received Ohio fines for infractions similar to DraftKings.

Pennsylvania levied a $7,500 fine against Hollywood Casino Morgantown in December for accepting bets on an unapproved exhibition fight between Evander Holyfield and Vitor Belfort, the first such fine for unapproved online wagers in Pennsylvania.

According to the PGCB, Pennsylvania has only issued four fines to online operators since launching. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), which recently released grades for responsible online gambling standards in the six states where online casinos are available, advertising and promotion are among Pennsylvania’s problematic areas.

National body graded PA well but pointed out two failed areas for advertising and promotion:

  • Operator to have a clearly articulated commitment to responsible advertising
  • Operator to not advertise a product on responsible gambling pages

The Keystone State is Looking to Deal Harshly With Advertising

The first thing PGCB told the operators is to stop using the term free bet. While most state sportsbooks stopped with the terminology on their own, Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board wants some consistency in the industry.

In 2019, Pennsylvania launched online gambling and has reached the same level as Ohio regarding responsible gambling messaging. Massachusetts, which recently introduced online sports betting, has also banned the use of the term “free” in marketing materials.

Ohio’s strict fines of at least $750,000 stand in stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s, as the PGCB has only issued four fines to online gambling operators in the past four years. While fines may not solve all problems, the PGCB is responsible for controlling problem gambling in the state. With Pennsylvania’s new commitment to responsible gambling, will operators who violate regulations face harsher fines?

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