One of Ohio’s aspiring sportsbook brands has already begun a social media marketing push. betJACK is offering free-to-play sports betting until real money sports betting goes live on Jan. 1, 2023. But some of its early ads, if not illegal, are examples of the unethical marketing that advertising regulations are designed to prevent.
The ads in question are two tweets. One claims that “no other sportsbook cares about Ohioans enough to let them start betting before January 1.” Another claims that betJACK’s “300 bonus tokens during the NBA finals” gives people more feelings of power than “money” or “status.”
What’s Wrong With the betJACK Tweets?
The first tweet falsely claims that betJACK’s free-to-play game is the same as gambling. That’s self-evidently untrue. Zynga has offered free-to-play casino games on Facebook since the 2000s. It differentiates between its free and real money games. Zynga also doesn’t create strange attack ads like betJACK.
Download the betJACK app to start betting on sports before January 1. pic.twitter.com/ZsGW5TJGnX
— betJACK (@betJACK) June 11, 2022
This tweet also falsely implies that companies can offer online betting before Jan. 1. That’s untrue, too. Promoting false information is against Ohio’s revised marketing codes and its draft sports betting rules. Those marketing restrictions are live in Ohio’s revised code because sportsbooks can run ads and recruit players before the statewide launch. So, this tweet puts betJACK in danger of unwelcome regulatory attention before it can complete state licensing.
That makes the second tweet even more dangerous for them.
The second tweet explicitly links money and social status to gambling. Ohio’s current revised code prohibits marketing that is “false, misleading, or deceptive” to a reasonable customer. This regulatory language is vague, but it should keep operators from promoting common gambling myths.
Did you get your 300 bonus tokens yet on betJACK Training Camp?
They'll be automatically added to your account so you can bet on the NBA Finals 👀 pic.twitter.com/TpIMYgPDOI
— betJACK (@betJACK) June 13, 2022
Gambling doesn’t necessarily confer money or social status to gamblers. Sportsbooks stack odds against gamblers. A lucky streak may fool some gamblers into thinking that they’re better than they are, but without knowing more than a sportsbook’s bookies, it’s hard to beat a sportsbook over the long run.
Gambling doesn’t necessarily make someone look cool either. Sports betting has a certain mystique for some players and spectators. Stories like the 1990s sports betting syndicate that routinely beat sportsbooks give professional sports bettors status.
However, most sports bettors are average or worse. Additionally, as sports betting becomes intertwined with sports, sports betting will lose some of its mystique. Linking gambling to status is not only illegal. It’s a dying appeal.
That gambling can lead to wealth and status is one of the common beliefs among problem gamblers and gambling addicts. That’s why gambling regulators prohibit advertising that implies gambling can lead to either. It can encourage people to chase losses and overspend on gambling. It’s an unethical way to do business.
This marketing language won’t remain vague for long. Ohio’s draft sports betting rules prohibit ads that “suggest that social, financial, or personal success is guaranteed by engaging in sports gaming.”
Almost like Canada: Ohio sports betting regulations include Ontario-style Marketing rules
Unethical Marketing And Meme Culture
Social media marketing presents new challenges even to experienced online gambling regulators.
In the United Kingdom, comedian Joe Lycett criticized sports gambling companies for advertisements that overexposed children to gambling ads. Lycett then went a step further and reported twitter memes from several gambling companies to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA said some of those tweets “[did] appear to break the rules,” and it would “take further action, including sanctions, if appropriate.”
With so many children on social media so early, ads designed to appeal to adults may appeal to children as well. Some of the UK tweets included memes with the Simpsons and Kermit the Frog. Even with adult text, those memes can still appeal to children.
If a mature online gambling market like the United Kingdom struggles with policing unethical social media marketing, is Ohio prepared to meet the challenge?
The challenge is daunting, but a ripe opportunity for Ohio regulators. Finding a way to keep sports betting companies from propagating gambling myths without stifling a sportsbook’s ability to advertise its best features would be a welcome innovation for other state regulators watching the newest hot market for new best practices.