We understand mistakes happen, but it is not a mistake when it appears to be this consistent. Ohio’s gaming regulator warned sportsbooks planning to launch on New Year’s Day that, for the last several weeks, “the advertising actions of the industry at large have been concerning” because of insufficient responsible gaming messaging.
In a letter last Friday, the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) reminded sportsbooks that it had released publishing guidance in June, allowing them to advertise before the market launches on January 1, 2023. It re-sent a link to the guidance as well.
The publishing guidance stated that Ohio sportsbooks must comply with the state’s gaming law. But according to the OCCC, the industry has run afoul of three “core tenets” of the law, specifically:
- All advertising must include a responsible gaming message
- All responsible gaming messages must be conspicuous
- Advertising must not target people under the age of 21
“These tenets comport with a stance the industry repeats itself over and over again — namely, that the industry does not want to have people participating in gaming if they are underage or have a gambling problem,” the OCCC wrote.
“As such, the OCCC is disappointed to be seeing apparent consistent violations. As we stated in June, and as has been published on our website since then, failure to meet the advertising standards will result in administrative action.”
Regulator Urges Industry to Make Fixes Now
Despite the regulator’s disappointment, it did not signal that it would crack down on sportsbooks for their past shortcomings. Instead, the agency made plain that it wants the industry to fix the issues with its advertising now to avoid enforcement action down the road.
“We understand mistakes happen, but it is not a mistake when it appears to be this consistent,” the OCCC said. “As we have stated, we do not seek to take administrative action. We do not seek to manage the industry’s advertising. And our actions show this — we do not approve advertisements or promotions, we do not set size or audio requirements specifically, we do not license marketing affiliates, etc.
“As such, we ask for the same courtesy from the industry: Act in accordance with your stated goals on responsible gambling. We look forward to helping the industry do so.”
OCCC Takes Aim at Weak RG Messaging
The regulator also said it was concerned that advertising by sportsbooks in Ohio isn’t including at least one of the three helpline numbers required by state law.
Ohio mandates that advertising and marketing for sports betting include either the number for the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, 1-800-589-9966, or one of the two helpline numbers established by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) — 1-800-522-4700, or the more well-known 1-800-GAMBLER.
Any of the three numbers is acceptable, the OCCC said.
The agency added that, while it understands sportsbooks may want to save money and time by using the same advertising across multiple jurisdictions, it has noticed that many ads tailored explicitly for the Ohio market either lack responsible gaming messaging entirely or the messaging is not conspicuous enough.
“An advertisement should not have to be zoomed in on, slowed down, or the volume turned up for an individual to see or hear a helpline number,” the OCCC said. “Our expectation is that the helpline number be at least nearly as clear, legible, and audible as the advertisement, whether advertised directly by the operator or through an affiliate marketer.
“To be clear, conspicuous certainly is not having the responsible gambling tagline in the smallest font, lowest voice, or fastest speech in the advertisement.”
Ohio will become the 32nd state with a regulated sports betting market when it goes live on Sunday. It will also be the 23rd state with online sports betting.