It is no secret that the amount of sports betting advertisements we see daily can be overwhelming. Add the fact that notable former star pro athletes and celebrities are getting involved in sports wagering marketing, and there is no place to hide from it.
Sports Betting Ads are everywhere, from TV commercials to social media banners, to billboards on the interstate. And when names like Kevin Hart, Jerry Rice, Ben Affleck and Shaquille O’Neal are all touting how much fun wagering on sports can be, the reminder to bet responsibly can be easily missed.
PlayIllinois spoke with Keith Whyte, the executive director of The National Council on Problem Gambling, about what role sports heroes and Hollywood stars play in the marketing of sports betting and what kind of impact it has on problem gambling.
Some with severe gambling issues don’t enjoy seeing celebrities in sports betting ads
The NCPG was founded in 1972 and is one of the oldest organizations tackling gambling issues. Whyte has served as the organization’s executive director for the past 25 years.
In that time, Whyte has seen his fair share of extreme problem gambling cases. He says there isn’t enough concrete data to say that seeing former pro athletes on sports betting ads contributes to more gambling problems. However, he also says that some with severe gambling issues he has spoken with directly are having trouble watching their favorite athletes and celebrities promote something they are struggling with.
“We do hear from people in recovery that the association with celebrities and gambling inappropriately glamorizes betting,” said Whyte. “And in the minds of people who have gambling problems, it associates those celebrities with harm and addiction and terribly negative outcomes.”
Whyte talked about a man that’s been in recovery from gambling addiction for the past 30 years. The man told Whyte that seeing these athletes endorse sports betting makes him sick. However, the man believes these stars are unaware of the gravity of the situation. He told Whyte that he thinks they have no idea of the amount of pain and harm gambling addiction is causing.
Whyte said people with severe gambling problems represent an estimated 2% of the population in the US. However, he believes we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg due to the amount of unreported issues and the number of underage people seeing vast amounts of sports betting commercials.
“I don’t think that anyone has their hands around the amount of ads that people under the age of 21 are seeing,” said Whyte. “I suspect that if we start to look into that it would be a really high amount.”
Whyte said celebrities doing responsible gambling messaging is helpful, but rare
There’s a fair share of problem gambling awareness ads out there. However, they are not flooding the airways like the pure sports betting commercials are.
For example, Whyte mentioned the ‘Manning Family‘ and their partnership with Caesars Sportsbook. Archie Manning and his two sons, Peyton and Eli, are ambassadors for the well know sports betting operator. All three are legendary NFL quarterbacks with loads of name recognition.
The Mannings did create an ad with Caesars specifically focused on responsible gambling.
Whyte commended the effort of the family and the operator for attempting to get the right message out there.
“It was at least a commitment from Caesars, a significant commitment of time and money and an agreement on the Mannings’ part to do it,” said Whyte. “That combination, I think, has resulted in tremendous positive feedback.”
However, Whyte also pointed out that it was just one company using one group of their celebrity endorsement to promote responsible gambling.
Responsible gambling ads harder to find, typically not in high rotation
For context seek, I had never seen this Manning responsible gambling commercial on TV. I had to go on YouTube to find it. However, I have seen almost all of their commercials with stars like Halle Berry and J. B. Smoove promoting Caesars’ mobile sports betting app.
That is the case with most of the high-profile operators. I could only find their responsible gambling ads online. You rarely see them while watching a Chicago Bears or Chicago White Sox game. Whyte said this is a flaw in advertising.
“It’s clear that the vast majority of responsible gambling ads are seen by very few people because they’re totally overwhelmed by the volume of regular commercial advertising,” said Whyte. “There are critics who will say, ‘If you can only see the Manning ads when you search it out on YouTube, how effective is that going to be?'”
Whyte said that criticism points to the need to assess how much money, or lack thereof, is being put into responsible gambling advertisements. He said the question to ask the operators is: How much of their budget is being used on ads solely designed to have a responsible gambling message?
NCPG hopes to do more responsible gambling advertising
There are a few responsible gambling ads that do find their way onto TV from time to time. I vividly recall the NFL running a few during games throughout the 2022 season. However, most of them didn’t feature any former players, and I can only remember one with a former coach.
Whyte said the responsibility not only falls on the operators to get the message out, but also on organizations like the NCPG as well.
“We think operators should be doing responsible gambling messaging. But then groups like NPCG should be doing problem gambling messaging,” said Whyte.
The NFL is one of the partners of the NCPG. The league and the organization agreed to a three-year grant totaling $6.2 million two years ago. Whyte said a portion of the money the NCPG is receiving will go to more problem gambling advertising.
“We are putting together our first ever national public service announcements for TV, digital and radio,” said Whyte. “We can’t rely on the operators only to do it and it can’t just be one message. One size does not fit all.”
The NCPG does not yet have a list of ex-pro athletes or celebrities to call on to help with their ad campaign. However, Whyte said he expects more athletes struggling with gambling addiction to come forward and tell their stories over time.
“(Currently) most of the folks are either suffering in silence or fear that they’re going to jeopardize their reputation or they’re just concentrated on their own recovery,” said Whyte. “That’s a great way to reach people about the seriousness of the problem but most importantly that no matter how serious your problem is, you can still get help and get better.”
For more information on The National Council on Problem Gambling, click here.