Illegal bookies are losing the fight but there’s still work to be done

SBC Americas spoke with Casey Clark, the American Gaming Association’s Senior Vice President, Strategic Communications, to get an update on the ongoing fight against illegal bookmakers. While solid progress is being made, there is evidently still much work to be done.

SBC Americas: What stage are we currently at in the fight to turn sports bettors away from the illegal bookies? Are we doing better than expected and what’s being done to reinforce the message that the legal option is the right one?

Casey Clark: With the expansion of legal sports betting, consumers are steadily moving toward the legal market. AGA research found that average spending with illegal bookies dropped 25% last year in states with legal sports betting. With more than $28bn having been wagered legally in the US since the court invalidated PASPA, it is pretty clear that consumers are migrating to the safe, regulated, legal markets that have opened closer to home.

Our research indicates that while 74% of bettors say it’s important to exclusively bet with legal operators, 55% unknowingly bet with illegal operators last year. Clearly there’s still work to be done.

Playing with legal, regulated operators is a key part of responsible sports wagering, so we have resources available so everyone can see what options are available to them in their jurisdiction. The AGA is also leading an industrywide educational effort through our Have A Game Plan. Bet Responsibly. public service campaign, which educates consumers on not just where, but also how to bet responsibly.

We are proud to partner with the NHL and NASCAR on this important initiative and look forward to partnering with more leagues and teams as they embrace the shared responsibility that comes with the sports betting opportunity.

SBCA: What has been the effect of the COVID pandemic on efforts to keep bettors away from the black market?

CC: First, I’d say that the legal market has done a good job, as it always does, in being nimble and finding ways to engage American sports bettors. Regulators permitted new bet types, and operators across the country worked to offer innovative entertainment opportunities people come to them for.

This was true during the total sports shut down, and certainly the record handle numbers we’re seeing in September and October are indicative of a legal industry serving a growing customer base. We estimate that the amount Americans have legally bet on sports through mobile channels has more than doubled year-over-year in every month since July 2020, while US igaming revenue has more than tripled every month since April.

During the sports shutdown caused by COVID-19, illegal, offshore operators tried to fill the void by offering bets on everything from the weather to shark migration patterns. These unregulated operators took advantage of unknowing consumers by pitching mainstream media to give the appearance of legitimacy.

It may make for good clickbait to entice people to bet on the likelihood that their friend’s marriage survives the pandemic, but mainstream media outlets linking to offshore books is a problem to say the least. That’s why part of our work is focused on educating reporters and media outlets about how editorial coverage of offshore operators perpetuates predatory, illegal markets.

SBCA: While any form of federal involvement in sports betting has been considered anathema, there are some who suggest that they have far more considerable resources to chase down illegal operators. Convincing them to channel those resources in such a way aside, is there any merit in that view?

CC: Although the regulation of legal sports betting should be left to the industry’s 4,000 experienced state and tribal gaming regulators, the federal government plays and should play an active and important role in combating illegal gambling.

The AGA works with federal law enforcement to enhance our collective understanding of the illegal market, and we encourage the federal government to continue prosecuting offshore operators, as they have successfully done over the last two decades. The Department of Justice has also made clear that it is illegal for companies to accept advertising revenue from illegal operators.

This is another important enforcement mechanism that should be utilized at the federal level, as limiting the visibility of illegal operators is important to continuing to diminish their market share.

SBCA: Keeping America’s bettors safe through responsible gambling initiatives and driving out illegal operators will be a big talking point at this year’s Betting on Sports America – Digital. What would the association’s message be to delegates ahead of the event?

The entire sports betting ecosystem—from operators and media to sports teams and leagues—share a responsibility to promote responsible gaming and educate consumers on the importance of betting only within the safeguards of the legal, regulated market.

This means holding ourselves accountable as an industry by investing in responsible gaming research and education, making responsible gaming programs widely available, and self-regulating when it comes to responsible advertising.

The success of the sports betting market is dependent on our shared commitment to responsible gaming, and our partnerships in Have a Game Plan are a great step forward in collaborating to educate consumers about how to bet responsibly.

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