By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
William J. Pascrell, III (BP3)
Gambling is booming in New Jersey.
New Jerseyans bet over $1 billion on sports last month. The state’s internet gambling market was up nearly 24% in March from a year earlier.
Despite the recent introduction of legalized sports betting to New York, the Garden State regularly leads the nation in monthly sports betting revenue.
Over the last few years, our state has experienced the largest regulatory, financial, and cultural shift toward gambling in its history, and with this surge in opportunity, comes a parallel need to address its largest threat: problem gambling.
While most people who gamble do so responsibly, more than 5 million Americans meet the criteria for gambling addiction.
Problem gambling is a unique addiction, relative to substance abuse disorders and other dependencies, in that it almost universally imposes financial challenges for addicts and their loved ones. The effects are pronounced, long-lasting — and avoidable.
Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the safety and well-being of gamblers: the federal government, state governments, regulatory boards, and even consumers themselves. There is no group that bears a greater responsibility, however than gambling companies themselves.
Gambling operators essentially have full control over their products: from data collection to player safeguards, to incentive limitations, countless shifts can be made by operators to reduce the likelihood and impact of problematic gambling behavior.
New Jersey’s gambling companies must address this challenge accordingly.
The state’s industry must deploy and embrace a comprehensive approach to responsible gambling. Just posting 1-800 numbers, required by regulation, is not enough. A comprehensive approach includes continuing research, massive education, innovative technology tools that provide warnings to players, and effective treatment that provides ongoing therapy and support to problem gamblers.
State operators need to make large-scale adjustments to their gambling products to more effectively track problematic gambling behavior. “Markers of protection,” or the range of data points that indicate addictive gambling behavior, should be fully incorporated into gambling companies’ compliance and safety practices.
Further, New Jersey’s sportsbooks need to align their advertising practices to reduce exposure to vulnerable populations. While one can understand these operators’ interest in bolstering their revenue and customer base through online, TV, and out-of-home advertising, this must be balanced with a consideration of problem gamblers and the effect that extensive advertising can have on their psyches.
Companies can direct their advertising placements to channels that allow users to opt-out of gambling ads, such as online display advertisements; enhance the portion of their ads dedicated to responsible gambling; and more aggressively promote responsible gambling, in and of itself, through all of their communications channels.
Industry operators should also fund initiatives that are actively educating gamblers and those in high-risk groups, like college athletes, on the dangers of problem gambling and the steps one can take to limit their exposure.
Entain Foundation U.S., for which I serve as a trustee alongside gambling regulatory affairs expert Martin Lycka and former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, sponsors or partners with a range of responsible gambling organizations. It’s not enough to dedicate tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Major gambling companies can and should donate millions of dollars, just a fraction of their profits, to protect the customers who pay their bills.
I often refer to responsible gambling as “sustainable gambling,” and for one reason: in the absence of an industry-wide, genuine focus on promoting responsible gambling and protecting state residents, New Jersey’s gambling industry will be plagued by crises for years. This is one clear example in which doing the right thing is also good business. I only hope that more gambling executives will wake up to that reality in the weeks and months ahead.
William J. Pascrell III, Esq. (BP3) is a partner at Princeton Public Affairs Group, the largest lobbying firm in New Jersey, and a trustee for Entain Foundation U.S.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem? CALL 1-800-Gambler. Gamblers Anonymous meetings are also held across the state.