With the 2023 Player Protection Symposium set to take place in New Jersey in May, SBC Leaders caught up with Martin Lycka, Entain’s SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling, to discuss post-PASPA progress on consumer protection issues.
Having spent more than a decade working in the European sports betting and igaming industry before relocating to the US in 2021, Lycka is one of the best-known figures in the world of responsible gambling. He is also uniquely well placed to offer an informed assessment of the North American approach – and it’s fair to say that he’s impressed by what he has seen so far.
“I’m delighted to report that there are an ever increasing number of states, led as always by New Jersey, that have introduced, or are in the throes of introducing, robust responsible gambling standards,” he said.
“This theme will definitely be reiterated and replicated going forward, and we’ve already seen Ohio, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York look at beefing up their responsible gambling practices. So I believe that, ultimately, it will spread across all the states that have regulated sports betting or igaming.”
Lycka is also full of praise for the regulators he has encountered in North America, who have “an open door policy and are always prepared to have a chat and listen”.
“I’m of the view that allowing betting on college sports in a controlled environment and subject to robust sports integrity controls is preferable to banning it”
There is, of course, still plenty of work for legislators, regulators and operators to do. As the individual state markets start to mature and the focus switches from the dash for player acquisition to the long-term impact of legal online gambling, new issues have begun to spring up.
Some of the challenges will be familiar to European audiences, such as a negative narrative in the established media putting pressure on regulators and operators, but others are unique to the US. Chief among them is how to manage the relationship between sports betting and high-profile college sports.
While many states have adopted a largely positive attitude to wagering on college sports, as long as the right measures are in place to protect the athletes and their fellow students, others such as New Jersey and Massachusetts have chosen to impose restrictions. Lycka strongly favours the more liberal approach.
“Firstly, I’m of the view that allowing betting on college sports in a controlled environment and subject to robust sports integrity controls is preferable to banning it,” he said. “By permitting betting, there are even more pairs of eyes – in this instance, the operators that keep a very close eye on those matches – to help protect the key asset of the game itself.
“Secondly, together with EPIC Risk Management, the Entain Foundation US has launched a programme that gives lived experience responsible gambling classes to colleges up and down the country, as well as to the NCAA itself. The programme has provided this education in more than 60 colleges already, including household names such as Clemson and Auburn, and we intend to grow it.”
“…we’ve set off on a course to educate both professional and amateur student athletes”
The work with EPIC is just one of many projects that the Entain Foundation US has backed since the London-listed gambling giant launched the non-profit in September 2019, with Lycka as its chair and former New York Giants star Amani Toomer and international gambling regulatory expert Bill Pascrell III among the trustees.
“Entain is investing in a research project with the Division on Addiction at Harvard Medical School,” explained Lycka. “In the field of research, we’ve also been working very closely with UNLV and, sticking to the theme of the university space, we’ve been one of the driving forces behind the Seton Hall gambling compliance bootcamp here on the East Coast.
“Besides that, we’ve set off on a course to educate both professional and amateur student athletes. In addition to our work with the NCAA, we have partnered with the NFL Players Association and MLS Players Association, and we’re talking to the other leagues about joining the programme.”
In addition to that wide-ranging education project, the Foundation has teamed up with Kindbridge, My Wager School, the National Council on Problem Gambling and Nicasa Behavioral Health Services to launch the Gamble Responsibly America app.
Available for free via the App Store and Google Play Store, it contains a host of useful information about responsible gambling and advice on how bettors can help themselves if they encounter any signs of problem gambling behaviour.
One of the channels used to promote the app has been the Foundation’s sponsorship of ex-New York Knicks star Charles Oakley’s ‘Oak Out Hunger’ community project, a step that has helped to take the safer gambling message to deprived communities.
“I’m delighted to report that there are an ever increasing number of states, led as always by New Jersey, that have introduced, or are in the throes of introducing, robust responsible gambling standards”
At a slightly more frivolous level, the work with the NBA All-Star has given Lycka an unexpected alter ego. He explained: “We’ve launched a set of responsible gambling superheroes, including Oakley as ‘Charles, the Limits Enforcer’ and me as ‘Martin, the RG Preacher’. Players will be seeing the full set across the app soon.”
Lycka is understandably proud of the impact of the work undertaken by Entain and its Foundation in the responsible gambling space, but he is also quick to pay tribute to the efforts of the competition.
Entain is one of a group of leading US-facing operators – alongside BetMGM, MGM Resorts International, DraftKings, FanDuel and Bally’s – to have agreed to and published a set of responsible gambling principles that they will abide by. The group is now working on recruiting other major operators and strengthening those principles, which extend to prevention, research and treatment support.
“That work has been picked up and the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States is now working on a resolution of its own. I’ve been working quite closely with them on it and they’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from the operators’ principles,” said Lycka. “But it’s two-way traffic and we may want to draw inspiration from their document when it’s published this summer.”
With operators and regulators largely on the same page, Lycka believes that the approach to responsible gambling in the US is “really all coming together” and that all the hard work will benefit the industry.
“I strongly believe, and it goes beyond advertising, that bans in this space are counterproductive”
“Just like in Europe and all around the world, Entain strongly believes that the only way of achieving long-term sustainability of the US markets is by means of deploying and ultimately enforcing very strong consumer protection controls,” he concluded.
One possible stormcloud on the industry horizon is New York Congressman Paul D. Tonko’s ‘Betting on our Future Act’, a federal bill that seeks to ban radio, television and online advertising by sportsbooks. While Lycka recognises that the gambling advertising landscape is far from problem-free, he does not view Tonko’s proposal as providing the solution.
“I strongly believe, and it goes beyond advertising, that bans in this space are counterproductive because they only drive consumers into the welcoming arms of the black market,” he explained.
“Having said that, the industry does need to think about introducing a further element of reason to its adverts. What I mean by that is that we should think about frequency and think about what we promote. There’s already been a step away from constantly offering free bets, which I believe is for the best, but the industry needs to make sure that it is sensible about advertising moving forward.”
Legislators in states including New York and Massachusetts have, at relatively early stages of their regulated markets being live, begun to tighten rules around advertising. Lycka’s hope is that any further changes will not inadvertently curb operators’ ability to use marketing as an education tool.
“Advertising can go a long way towards addressing the concerns the likes of Congressman Tonko and others may have as, used in the right way, it’s a great channel to convey responsible gambling messages,” he said.
“Not only does it provide the opportunity to educate consumers about why they should choose a legitimate licensed operator to bet with and how they can gamble in a safe and sustainable way, it is also a chance to utilise big personalities who have chosen to become champions of responsible gambling. Sports fans will really listen to a message delivered by Amani Toomer or the Manning brothers or Charles Oakley.”