It needs to be actively policed in order to protect consumers

Ken ReedI’m a proponent of legalized sports gambling. I think it’s a better alternative than the shady sports gambling world we’ve had for decades.

That said, I am strongly against the excessive – and, in some cases, dangerous – ads and promotions for legal sports gambling companies we are constantly bombarded with today.

To that end, a lot more guardrails need to be implemented. A good place to start is to examine what has worked and not worked in Nevada and the numerous countries across the globe that have had legal sports gambling for a long time. Nevada and countries like the United Kingdom (which legalized sports gambling in 1961), Australia, Spain and Italy, where sports gambling has been legal longer than in the United States and Canada, have much more stringent rules and regulations than the majority of states that have implemented legalized sports gambling in the U.S.


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  • Legal sports books’ advertising and promotion practices need to be regulated much more strongly than what is happening today. Promotions like “free bet” offers should be banned because they entice neophyte betters, especially younger people, with “easy money” messages. Free bets and similar promotions are banned in countries that have had legalized sports gambling for a long time.
  • There currently are no rules or regulations regarding advertising and promotions by the sports betting industry at the federal level in the U.S. States regulate how sportsbooks can operate, but some states give companies wide latitude when it comes to advertising and promotions. This is contrary to the constraints placed on other industries with the potential for addiction, like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

“I never imagined it would get to this point,” says New Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, who, along with colleagues, made New Jersey the first state outside of Nevada to legalize online sports betting. “I wanted them to be successful, but not at the cost of negative effects on our public and youth. These ads have gotten really insane. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing them.”

  • As is the case in the UK, sports betting ads should be banned or severely restricted during broadcasts of sporting events. Millions of minors watch these sporting events. Furthermore, sports betting ads shouldn’t be allowed in venues where sporting events take place. The ubiquitous sports betting ads we see during games today are not only annoying they are also potentially dangerous for vulnerable parts of society.
  • Colleges and universities should absolutely not be in the business of promoting sports gambling. Nevertheless, numerous colleges and universities in the U.S. have cut deals with sports gambling companies to promote sports gambling on campus. That practice needs to stop.
  • There must be stricter penalties for sports gambling operators who break established rules and regulations. To date, there has been only weak enforcement. For example, in most jurisdictions, sports gambling customers aren’t supposed to be able to use credit cards to fund their betting accounts. However, in some cases, and in some states, sports betting companies have been allowing customers to use credit cards or interest-free loans to fund their accounts. States shouldn’t be allowing debt for gambling purposes.
  • There should be a national self-exclusion list for citizens who want to block themselves from online or snail mail sports gambling solicitations for whatever reason, including concerns they may be prone to problem gambling behaviour.
  • Unbelievably, some states allow sports betting operations to deduct their advertising and promotion expenses from their taxes. That can’t be allowed to happen. Taxpayers shouldn’t be put in the position of helping to promote gambling.

In the end, here’s what we’re left with: If we accept that gambling on sports is a fact of life that can’t be ignored or wished away, then the question becomes whether it is better to legalize it, regulate it, tax it, and actively police it, or leave it underground where it remains murkier and harder to detect and control.

I think the answer is clear. Sports gambling should be legal. However, it also must be effectively regulated and actively policed in order to protect consumers.

Ken Reed is sports policy director for League of Fans (, a sports reform project. He is the author of three books on sports issues: How We Can Save Sports; Ego vs. Soul in Sports; and The Sports Reformers; and a children’s sports book titled Sara’s Big Challenge.

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