Speaking to SBC Leaders Magazine earlier this year, Cait DeBaun, American Gaming Association’s VP of Strategic Communications & Responsibility, explains why the nascent US sports betting market expands the scope for the AGA’s Have A Game Plan initiative.
Sports betting is seemingly an ever-expanding market – especially in the US. At the time of writing, 35 states have already legalised sports wagering. With legislation being debated in several other states, the rise of sports betting is set to continue well into 2023 and beyond.
As with most business expansions, such growth poses almost as many challenges as it does opportunities. In the case of gambling, particularly in the online space, the primary challenge is that of player safety. Due to greater accessibility and ease of use of apps, responsible gambling charities have raised concerns over the potential risk to problem gamblers.
Overseeing the US gambling industry is the American Gaming Association, which in 2019 launched its Have a Game Plan Campaign to promote safer gambling tools to players via operator partnerships and bettor education.
So as more states introduce legal sports betting, DeBaun acknowledged that the AGA’s remit to responsible gambling is forever expanding, with the campaign educating players on safer gambling measures.
“Thinking back to the 2018 decision around PASPA, the AGA recognised that responsible gaming and our responsibility broadly is something we’ve done for decades. It’s not new to the industry. It’s something we’ve built in the brick and mortar space. As you know, our remit was expanding as we grew a legal market state by state. Responsibility was our top priority.”
Have A Game Plan, DeBaun outlined, is a multi-faceted campaign that looks outwardly at consumers, operators and other key stakeholders to encourage responsible gambling. Sports leagues, teams and media all bear ‘responsibility for responsibility’, she advised.
“We’re nearing 30 partners that have reflected those various groups and the way that Have A Game Plan reaches customers is through our partners’ channels,” DeBaun added. “They know their customers and their fans the best so we wanted to empower them with a responsible gaming message that they could deliver in a compelling way that was authentic for their brands and voices.”
The Association’s Comms lead detailed that RG measures are woven into the fabric of the industry to build a long-term, sustainable market on top of key priorities such as player safety.
US industry leaders are constantly looking towards more mature markets, particularly in Europe, to seek long-term sustainability. But DeBaun asserted that players should be ‘empowered’ and trusted to set safety limits through education rather than be forced through mandatory hard checks.
She continued: “We saw an opportunity and it’s in part consumer education and partly to bolster the reputation and show that everyone here is taking responsible gaming seriously. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s a business obligation that our players and fans engage responsibly; this is entertainment for adults and we want to make sure that, as new fans are exposed to sports betting or igaming, they’re doing so in a responsible way because our goal is to build a long term sustainable market.”
Paramount to implementing effective RG measures is the research that underpins all policy decisions. DeBaun asserted that research is key to all the AGA’s Have A Game Plan decision making process, with funding and grants provided to institutions dedicated to RG academia.
In November last year, the International Centre for Responsible Gaming – an organisation born out of the AGA – awarded a three-year grant of over $400,000 to Bowling Green State University to conduct a nationwide study into the behavioural patterns of sports bettors in the US. One key aim of the study is to ‘identify risk factors for problematic sports-wagering behaviours’.
DeBaun noted that the AGA and its partners welcome the ICRC’s work to ensure the best standard of research in the field, adding: “Our role as an industry is to test our products, understand our market and our players and we want to leave that research on effectiveness and impact to those who are better suited in terms of academic rigour to research.”
Central to many plans around responsible gaming strategies is the monitoring and scrutiny of operators’ marketing output. Advertising is often cited as a key stimulant of problem gambling and an area for improvement with regard to RG.
The National Council on Problem Gambling even ensured that advertising limitations were inked into the sports betting legislation in Kansas, with advertisers mandated to avoid ads targeting minors, limiting the form, content, quantity, timing, and location of advertisements and providing toll-free problem gambling helplines in ads.
Mirroring these views, DeBaun acknowledged that advertising poses significant threats to players, especially during busy periods of the sporting year such as the NFL kick-off; however, underscored the importance of advertising in bringing players to the legal markets.
“We’re very conscious of questions around advertising saturation, and a big part of that for us is getting players to the legal market. In the US there is a rampant offshore sports betting market and advertising plays a key role in bringing customers into the legal market.
“We’re currently planning what that’s going to look like in terms of Have A Game Plan activation, but we want to make sure that along with the advertising for your favourite sports book, you’re also getting some education around what is sports betting and how to do so responsibly.”
Moving the conversation toward specific RG measures, the topic of harder checks in terms of player affordability has been at the centre of debate in the UK. Whilst finding such measures ‘interesting’ the AGA maintains that its recommendations and consumer education are born out of research findings rather than ‘arbitrary measures that sound good on paper’.
DeBaun insisted that all safety measures come from research and market needs, developed by how players interact and engage with different wagering products, whether it is casino, igaming or sports betting.
“Something that’s interesting is that a lot of it is unclear as to what’s effective and what’s not. So if you think of the casino experience, the ATM is placed a certain distance away from the casino floor, but there’s no evidence to say that’s why we do this. It just sounded like a good idea on the regulatory front.
“We’re interested in understanding what tools work best and providing customers with resources to create a healthy, entertaining experience with sports betting, igaming or any kind of casino gambling. I think that we want to see how our players are interacting with our product and involve evolving and evolving that based on the market needs.”
Ostensibly, Have A Game Plan’s key purpose is to educate players on the key methods to avoid negative wagering habits and the tools available to provide support. As well as providing year-round resources on setting budgets, being aware of odds and encouraging fun play in the legal market, the AGA also engages in more broad campaigns such as Responsible Gaming Education Month.
RGEM takes place in September this year – coinciding with the NFL kick-off – and was expanded from a week to a month to reinforce AGA and its partners’ commitment to responsibility.
The month makes up just one part of the AGA’s plans for the rest of 2022, which aims to raise the standards of RG across the US to ensure that players are equipped with the tools to avoid slipping into problem gambling.
Summarising some of the AGA and the Have A Game Plan campaign’s plans and aims for the rest of 2022, DeBaun concluded: “Broadly for Have A Game Plan, it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats, so we want to continue to expand the partners we have engaged with the campaign so we can reach more fans about responsible gaming education. We are evolving the tools and resources we have available for our partners.”