New York Daily News
New York’s gambling trap
Who the hell bets on golf?” my wife asked, referring to a between-innings TV ad during a Yankees game. I shared her incredulity: It’s one thing to make a friendly wager on the course, but do people really sit around betting on the PGA Tour from their living rooms?
Apparently, they do. And undoubtedly, more will follow amid the ever-growing number of gambling site advertisements advocating casual, couch-potato wagering on golf tournaments. Or baseball games or soccer matches or boxing bouts. Or even professional cornhole contests.
Does anyone else think we’re on the fast track to a collective gambling problem? As a recovering alcoholic, I have several cross-addicted friends in Gamblers Anonymous who know full well the dangers of “everyone else is doing it” enticements.
Even before New York State legalized online sports gambling a few weeks ago, the uptick in advertising for sports betting sites was worth worrying about. Such sites have been legal in neighboring New Jersey for quite some time, prompting seemingly ubiquitous online sportsbook ads — including ones tempting newcomers with free bets and other special promotions — on regional sports TV networks like the Mets’ SNY Channel, as well as radio stations such as WFAN and WEPN, ESPN Radio’s New York City affiliate.
To circumvent the ban on online sports gambling in their home state, New Yorkers…simply went to New Jersey. Once setting foot in the Garden State, the gaming sites’ geofencing allowed them to wager more than $800 million in 2019 alone on everything from basketball and boxing to hockey and horse racing. One reason New York legalized the sites was the resulting revenue loss to New Jersey for a practice that would continue with or without New York’s consent.
And now, with sports gambling officially welcome in New York, the advertising has gone from concerningly consistent to alarmingly constant. Sports-adjacent programming is now absolutely awash in ad revenue from this $35 billion industry, with the two largest players — FanDuel and DraftKings — saturating new and expanding markets like New York in an effort to beat back emerging competitors. Further, in the last year, COVID-caused sportsbook closures have only upped the ante for online entities.
Not only do such ads permeate the YES Network, TV home to the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets, but DraftKings actually sponsors the Yankees’ pregame show. The in-program advertising is part of an exclusive partnership the gambling site has with Major League Baseball. What message is that sending to a younger fan base, one that MLB executives have openly courted amid sagging youth interest in the national pastime?
On sports talk radio, seemingly every third ad is for gambling sites — including “readers” in which hosts cheerfully dare listeners to “put their money where their mouth is” by betting on any number of sporting events. This despite the fact that WFAN’s most famous on-air personality, Craig Carton, is a recovering compulsive gambler whose addiction led him down a path of crime and incarceration. Regardless, the station’s parent company, Entercom Communications, recently signed a six-year sponsorship with FanDuel that includes ad scripts read by hosts and spots promising can’t-lose, “riskfree” or even fully refundable first-time bets for new members.
A radio spot from BetMGM, currently running on WFAN, is an example that should give anyone pause. The ad entices new members by promising to pay out $100 from a bet of $1. The bet? That any team in an NBA game they wager on hits one three-pointer — about as sure a thing as any sporting outcome. Of course, that $100 is paid out not in funds but in free bets, prompting new gamblers to become regular ones.
The proliferation of sports betting ads in the NYC market aligns with a larger, national trend. For example, rather than providing scores and game updates on its bottom-of-screen ticker, ESPNews now frequently has betting odds for various near-future sporting events, enticing viewers to wager while they watch.
Before we create a generation of gambling addicts, such ads need to be limited and regulated with reasonable parameters. We don’t allow Marlboro to sponsor halftime shows, and we shouldn’t be allowing DraftKings to sponsor them either.
What does regulation look like? For starters, sports gambling sites and the shows they are sponsoring should not be so incestuous. There’s a difference between an advertisement between innings and one that literally appears in a program’s very name.
Nor should such sites be sanctioned by radio hosts in the form of onair readers. Are stations like WFAN so desperate that they’re willing to parlay the trust listeners place in their sports knowledge into recommending rampant, often reckless sports wagering? Do they really think their greed isn’t adding to the ranks of the 10 million Americans with a gambling problem?
Without fairer rules of the fairway, “who the hell bets on golf?” will be a question too many of us can answer.