With its second six-figure contribution to the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) in just over a year, Bally’s Corporation has made itself the organization’s biggest financial supporter and the first to exceed $1 million in donations.
After making an initial $600,000 donation in August 2022, Massachusetts-based ICRG announced Bally’s contributed an additional $450,000 on Oct. 25. The $1.05 million total, the organization said, makes Bally’s the “largest donor over two years.”
According to the ICRG media release announcing the “groundbreaking” donation, Bally’s contribution highlights the company’s commitment to responsible gambling (RG).
Bally’s Corporation has set a groundbreaking record as the largest donor over two years by contributing over $1.05 million to the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG). This generous donation underscores Bally’s commitment to advancing responsible gambling initiatives and addressing health risks associated with young adult gambling.
Funds Support Significant RG Research
With the initial $600k, ICRG is funding two “significant” research grants aimed at enhancing RG strategies and deepening insights into younger gamblers’ health challenges.
The first, underway at the University of Sydney, Australia’s Center of Excellence in Gambling Research, focuses on boosting the use of operator’s RG tools.
The other, undertaken by the University of Washington, aims to provide insights to help direct the tailoring of RG messages to young adults (18-26).
The additional $450k, ICRG said, is intended to revamp RG communications to be more informative and engaging and avoid stigmatizing language. The hope is that efforts will foster better engagement with the audience.
However, while the million-dollar donation is important, it’s a small amount for a multi-billion-dollar industry. The fact that it’s worthy of headlines highlights the dire state of responsible gambling funding overall.
RG Funding Still Lower Than Recommended
In 2022, Bally’s Corporation reported $2.26 billion in revenue, with $1.8 billion directly attributed to its commercial and online gambling operations.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has recommendations for the portion of revenue an operator should “dedicate to reducing the social costs of gambling addiction.”
Numbers-wise, NCPG has specified states that regulated sports betting operators should set aside 1% of their collected revenues to devote to responsible gaming and problem gambling programs.
Another organization, the National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services (NAADGS), advocates for directing 2% of gambling revenue to responsible and problem gambling initiatives.
Although the guidelines vary and apply to different verticals, the hope of these and similar groups is that operators would contribute on the order of single-digit percentages. For Bally’s, that would equate to tens of millions annually.
Granted, Bally’s million-dollar ICRG donation is presumably not the company’s only RG-related outlay. However, any bigger donations would not be made quietly. Gambling companies are quick to announce large RG contributions, as Flutter Entertainment did recently.
According to Flutter’s 2023 half-year report, the company spent £45 million ($54.7m) on “safer gambling initiatives” across all divisions between January and June. While that would be in the right range compared to Flutter’s US revenues ($3.1 billion, 1% to 2% of which would be $31-62 million), it still comes up short when considering the company’s total 2022 revenues reached £7.69 billion ($9.3 billion).
States Also Fail to Spend at Adequate Levels
Operators aren’t the only parties guilty of under-spending. States legalizing new forms of gambling often promise that some of the tax revenue will go to treat gambling addiction, only to divert the money elsewhere.
A study released by NAADGS earlier this year found that US states spend only 38 cents per resident on services to treat gambling addiction. The per capita amount jumps slightly to 46 cents when we exclude jurisdictions with little in the way of regulated gambling.
On the positive side, the study found that states spent more on problem gambling services in 2022 than previously. In total, US states spent $104.3 million on problem gambling in 2022, which is an 11% jump over 2021.
However, state contributions must still catch up to NCPG and NAADGS recommendations.
According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), US gross gaming revenue (GGR) reached $60.4 billion in 2022. If states were funding problem gambling at the recommended rates, available public funds would range between $604,000,000 and $1.2 billion. That’s 6-12 times 2022’s allocations.
While it’s great to see Bally’s step up, it’s clear the industry’s commitment to responsible and problem gambling has room to grow.
More PG Funding Required
Still, encouraging gambling states and the betting industry to support responsible and problem gambling adequately isn’t the only hurdle when it comes to funding research.
Significantly, some believe problem gambling research is less valid when funded by the industry.
While there’s a valid argument that industry players should remain at arm’s length from the programs and research they fund, organizations like ICRG have procedures to insulate investigations from undue influence.
From ICRG’s website:
The ICRG’s research program is funded primarily by companies involved in the gambling industry. Because of concern about undue influence or bias, the ICRG created a firewall to insulate the research from industry influence.
First, all of ICRG’s funding initiatives are developed and approved by the Scientific Advisory Board, an independent panel of prominent scientists in the addictions. Second, calls for proposals are distributed to more than 1,000 scientists around the world. Third, grant applications submitted to the ICRG are vetted by independent peer review panels composed of leading scientists in the gambling field. Fourth, their evaluations are then reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Board, which makes the final funding decisions.
Neither the governing board nor the donors have any input into this process, and research findings are not announced until published in a peer-reviewed journal. The successful publications records of ICRG-funded investigators—more than 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals since 1996—demonstrates that quality is what drives the ICRG research grants program.
Unfortunately, the lack of adequate funding for problem research and programming is a growing problem. Unless state budgets grow substantially, the industry will need to continue to step up.