The Belgian government has announced it will ban gambling advertising starting on July 1. The move raises the question of whether the US should take a similar approach.
In Belgium, the government states addiction and debt are the primary motives for the ad ban. It will cover all media, including the internet. Further bans connected to sports will take effect later.
Belgium joins Italy, which banned gambling advertising in 2019. Also, many other European countries have partial bans, including Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, and Finland.
The move by the Belgian government raises the question of whether the US should consider a similar approach. There could also be other methods to fight addiction, including regulation at the state level, more research, and education.
About the Belgium Advertising Ban
Starting on July 1, gambling advertising will be prohibited on TV and radio, and in magazines, newspapers, movie theaters, and public places. The ban also includes advertising online and on social media.
Additionally, advertising will be banned in soccer stadiums.
Furthermore, beginning on Jan. 1, 2028, gambling companies won’t be able to sponsor professional sports teams, including soccer. This year, at least seven top-league Belgian teams have gambling companies as sponsors on their jerseys.
The Belgian government said they based their decision on research showing advertising increases gambling addictions.
Following the announcement, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said in a statement:
The government is deeply concerned about the impact of the huge amounts of gambling advertising that our society is facing. And for those who want to get rid of their gambling addiction, the tsunami of gambling advertising is an additional problem.
Many Believe US Sports Betting Ads Need More Regulation
With the legalization of US online casino gambling and sports betting in more and more states, there has been a focus on the potential tax revenue benefits. However, advertising in the sector has received limited regulation.
A National Public Radio article highlights the lack of regulation of sports betting advertising, with operators having considerable leeway to regulate themselves and their advertising. One result of this lack of regulation is that minors are often exposed to sports betting ads. The less-regulated advertising in the US market has created what many consumers consider an overload of gambling advertisements and a negative sum game between operators competing for market share.
The public might also think similarly. A Harris Poll found that 58% of US adults believe sports betting should not be widely advertised. Also, 71% think that sports organizations should not partner with sports betting companies. Meanwhile, a YouGov survey concluded that 45% believe there is too much sports betting advertising, while 35% were unsure. Considering it was a national poll, the uncertainty may be partly because some states do not have legalized sports betting.
Given these indications that sports betting advertising may need more regulation, policymakers may need to consider how best to balance the benefits of legalized sports betting with the potential harms of excessive advertising, particularly concerning minors.
As a Federal Bill Is Introduced, Should States Regulate Ads?
A bill to ban gambling advertising across the US has already been proposed. Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the Betting on Our Future Act (BOFA) on Feb. 9. BOFA would ban advertising sports betting on all electronic media under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) jurisdiction, like the cigarette ad ban.
Tonko’s bill includes the internet, which could be a legal gray area. Nevertheless, social media companies already have their own gambling ad rules. Some are already implementing a partial or complete gambling ad ban.
Meanwhile, some state regulators have taken things into their hands to control the language used in gambling advertising. A notable example is Ohio, which launched sports betting on Jan. 1. Shortly after the launch, the state fined multiple sportsbooks for inappropriate ads and other procedures. That included a hefty $350,000 fine for DraftKings allegedly advertising to minors.
Shortly after, the Ohio Casino Control Commission fined DraftKings an additional $150,000 for alleged insufficient responsible gaming language and advertising “free” and “risk-free” bets. That has forced DraftKings and other operators to stop using “free” and “risk-free” language nationwide.
A state that is looking to follow Ohio’s steps is Massachusetts. The Bay State recently launched online sports betting on March 10. Regulators stated they would not allow particular language and an intent to follow Ohio’s strict advertisement approach.
In Illinois, lawmakers are pushing a bill requiring operators to display messages with links to gambling addiction resources after every 10 customer bets.
Gambling Addiction Education, Research Could Be An Aid
Gambling addiction is a severe issue, with up to 10 million US adults estimated to have some form of problem gambling, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). The recent legalization of sports betting across the country has led to a significant increase in calls to national and local helplines, raising questions about the availability of education and treatment resources.
Reports suggest that people struggling with gambling addiction are less likely to seek help. Unlike other addictions or mental health disorders, gambling addiction is often not covered by insurance, making it difficult for individuals to afford treatment. According to NCPG research, gambling addiction is often stigmatized by the general public and seen as worse than other disorders, such as alcoholism.
Despite the severity of the issue, many states lack adequate budgets and resources to address gambling addiction, often relying only on operators’ responsible gaming messages and tools. However, some states, such as New Jersey, have implemented initiatives like the Responsible Gaming Initiative (RGE). RGE personnel track data from online operators to identify potential red flags and reach out to individuals.
Also, compared with European countries, little research is done in the US to study and address gambling addiction nationally. Even within the US, alcohol addiction is studied by the National Institutes of Health.
This apparent lack of attention to gambling addiction in the US underscores the need for increased resources and funding to help those struggling with this condition.