Politicians Poke At Sports Betting Ads But Pander To Lotteries And Their Cute Groundhogs

The sports betting industry is under fire while state lotteries use cartoon characters to pitch product

No, sports betting industry, you’re not paranoid. That New York Times series from last November has indeed lit a fire, despite the fact the main story — to my 25-plus years journalistic eye — was a slam job.

(My position: The main article — which purported to show the dark side of how sports betting became legalized across dozens of states — could’ve been written about any industry and how greasy lobbyists and the politicians who don’t mind being greased are equally gross.)

Anyway …

You’re not being paranoid. Sports betting — specifically sports betting advertising — is under attack. For proof, just look at this comment from Robert Williams, the executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission, which has created a bunch of new rules aimed at curbing sports betting advertising. 

“It’s a substantial limitation and imposition of the requirements relative to advertising in sports wagering,” Williams said this week. “Several of our commissioners were very, very responsive to the New York Times article series, which, while it didn’t reference New York itself, was still things they were looking at, as far as the advertising on college campuses and a lot of concerns from disgruntled individuals that didn’t understand what they were actually signing up for.”

Of course, New York isn’t alone. Massachusetts has instituted some of the strictest advertising rules, and Maine is right behind. Ohio has been fining operators left and right, and Paul Tonko, a congressman from New York, has proposed banning sports betting advertising, period, full stop.

And New York isn’t done. According to Williams, two state legislators recently introduced a bill to slap warnings on any sportsbook advertising that eventually survives the purge.

We have two state senators in New York that introduced legislation that would basically require warnings as to the potential harmful and addictive effect of gambling on every single advertisement,” Williams said. “They’re looking at it in the manner of Joe Camel and the tobacco industry.”

Yep. Sports betting advertising, bad. Politicians and regulators, fighting the good fight, keeping American adults — and their children — safe from the harms of gambling.

Mmm-hmm. Sure. Right-o.

Apples to pretty much apples

Here’s a fun didja know: According to the American Gaming Association, sports bettors wagered $93 billion legally in 2022. Revenue from that number was about $7.5 billion.

To compare apples to a fruit that is remarkably similar to apples — in fact, they are also frickin’ apples — dig this: According to the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, American lottery players wagered $98 billion legally in 2021, and the revenue from that was … $35 billion.

But sure, we need to do something about sports betting.

Furthermore … state lotteries spend over $500 million a year on advertising. Granted, sportsbooks spent more than triple that in advertising last year, but they also represent a brand new industry. Zero chance that number is anywhere close to that once all the states legalize. And besides …

The lottery advertising number doesn’t even count the free advertising at the near-quarter million lottery retailers across America. Seriously: Every time someone gets gas, runs into a supermarket, stops in a 7-Eleven, they’re being exposed to lottery advertising. Doesn’t matter if they’re 18 years old or 108 years old.

Oh, that’s right! You only need to be 18 to buy lottery tickets in most states.

And no, the lottery would of course never, ever, never dare to think about slanting its advertising toward children. Nope. Never.

Money, money, money

So to sum up this apples-to-how-is-it-also-not apples comparison, state lotteries 1) handle more money than legalized sports betting 2) have a hold of 36% compared to the 8% in sports betting 3) spend a half-billion dollars a year on advertising 4) are allowed to sell to 18-year-olds and 5) use beloved cartoon characters to sell their product. 

Granted: I get it. It’s harder to lose your house playing the lottery than it is betting on sports. Not many people are sliding up to the counter to plunk down $1,000 on scratchers. But it doesn’t lessen the toll. Again: Americans lost $35 billion playing assorted lottery games in 2021, and, as numerous studies have shown, the vast majority of the people who lost money shouldn’t be gambling in the first place.

And furthermore, betting on sports can generally speaking be a fun hobby — and for the vast majority, it is — whereas lottery playing is simply a money grab. There’s no “hobby” in there. Just trying to get rich quick.

Make no mistake, lottery players are looking for the big score, and the advertising plays right into that: “Anything Can Happen in Jersey.” Or California’s “A Little Play Can Make Your Day.” Or Pennsylvania’s “Keep on Scratchin’,” featuring a talking groundhog that definitely does not appeal to children.

But yep, it’s sports betting that has our politicians’ undergarments in a bunch.

Now do I think sports betting companies should be able to do whatever they want on the advertising front? Of course not. There have to be rules and regulations. We live in a society, etc. 

But politicians — much like babies — are easily distracted by shiny new toys, and sports betting is the shiny new toy. Add in the New York Times deep dive, and you’ve got the recipe for politicians and regulators to try and get all nanny state on the industry.

But this issue? Come on. The magnifying glass being placed on sports betting is hypocritical to the max. How can politicians talk about banning sports betting advertising when another form of gambling advertises everywhere? How can politicians talk about how they don’t want sports betting ads to appeal to children, a la Joe Camel, when another form of gambling is running ads with cartoon characters? How can politicians talk about …

Oh, right. State lotteries are “state” lotteries. They made over $28 billion in 2021 on ticket sales. Sports betting — checks notes — made $1.5 billion for states in 2022.


Well, much like the old Persian adage-turned OK Go ditty, this too shall pass and the New York Times will write about the dangers of marijuana or TikTok or something and legislators and regulators will have their new shiny toy to play with and move on from sports betting. Storms to be weathered.

One sure thing, though: I’m confident it won’t be the lottery the politicians go after. That much I know. I’d bet against that all the way up to -5000.

PHOTO: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


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