Tonko Aims to Regulate Online Sports Betting Ads


In the United States, a vast transformation looms over the sports betting landscape as legislative reforms aim to curtail the aggressive marketing strategies of online sports gambling enterprises. At the helm of this push for change is US Representative Paul Tonko of New York, who fervently believes that the burgeoning industry requires new guardrails in the digital age. His introduced legislation, known as the SAFE Bet Act, seeks to redress the balance between consumer safety and the unchecked growth of a sector that has flourished since the relaxation of federal restrictions.

This prospective law presents a formidable challenge to online betting behemoths like FanDuel and DraftKings, which have become fixtures in the digital sports betting arena. The SAFE Bet Act endeavors to silence the clamor of sportsbook advertising during the throes of live sporting spectacles. Further, it casts a prohibitive net over enticing adverts, effectively extinguishing promotions that dangle tantalizing bonus bets or artificially enhanced odds, a common lure for potential gamblers.

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The unveiling of Tonko’s legislative ambition was timed for maximum impact, coinciding with the precipice of the NCAA basketball tournament—a paragon of peak betting activity. The correlation is hardly subtle; the tournament represents both the pinnacle of sports enthusiasm and an apex of gambling participation.

The SAFE Bet Act’s introduction follows the pattern of historical interventions, parallel to the regulatory taming of the tobacco industry when it faced scrutiny for fostering a public health crisis. Representative Tonko draws a direct line between the erstwhile Joe Camel—a once-pervasive symbol of big tobacco’s overreach—and the contemporary use of celebrity endorsements and financial incentives by sportsbooks to entice new customers.

Tonko’s legislative pursuit is reinforced by the acumen of public health professionals, including the alliance with Richard Daynard of the Northeastern’s Public Health Advocacy Institute. Daynard delineates a clear distinction between the act of gambling itself and the digital-age mechanisms at play within the sphere of online sports betting—mechanisms that, in his view, have evolved the nature of wagering into an altogether different beast than its traditional predecessor.

The SAFE Bet Act’s emergence is a direct response to the Supreme Court’s 2018 overruling of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a decision that proliferated legal sports betting across the US. Since then, a whopping thirty-eight states, together with the District of Columbia, have given the green light to some version of legal sports wagering.

With the new proposal, Tonko critiques the status quo and pledges to impose significant safeguards. The legislation outlines a clear ban on credit card use for betting deposits, introduces a five-deposit cap per customer within a 24-hour timeframe, and calls for the establishment of a national self-exclusion registry for those seeking to avert gambling temptations. The bill also demands the commission of a surgeon general’s report to probe the public health ramifications tied to sports betting.

One distinctive facet of the SAFE Bet Act concerns the utilization of artificial intelligence, which has become increasingly prevalent in tailoring individualized promotions and in formulating betting markets like microbets—a practice the bill proposes to outlaw.

As the arena of sports betting confronts this prospective regulatory shift, a statement from the American Gaming Association indicates a withheld judgment until the full breadth of Tonko’s bill is unveiled. Tonko himself announces intentions to formally introduce the legislation later in the year, signaling another chapter in the quest for federal oversight—an endeavor that thus far has been thwarted, with no predecessor bills ever successfully breaching committee review.

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