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Pennsylvania Regulators Enact New Sports Betting Ad Restriction

Written By Derek Helling | Updated:
pennsylvania sports betting new advertising regulations

Across the United States, legal sportsbooks advertising a “risk-free” bet could soon become the fauxiest of pas. Regulators have just made sure that Pennsylvania sports betting licensees can face punishment for doing so.

The new rule limits how Pennsylvania sportsbooks can advertise themselves in a push to limit problem gambling. It could be somewhat academic at this point, however.

Pennsylvania sports betting rules get tweaked

In Pennsylvania, a regulated sportsbook using marketing material that includes the term “free bet” will now represent a violation of state rules. According to Sam McQuillan of Legal Sports Report, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced the change Friday.

It was at one time quite common for online sportsbooks to advertise their services using the term or something akin to it. The deals aren’t actually free in the classical sense of the term, however. To be eligible, you have to make a minimum deposit of real money.

If you win your first bet after you made the qualifying deposit, you get your winnings according to the odds on your bet slip. If the sportsbook grades your qualifying bet as a loss, however, it credits your account with site credit up to the value of the promotion or how much you bet, whichever was lesser.

That site credit isn’t real money. You can’t withdraw any of that value as cash. To turn it into real money, you have to make a winning bet with it.

Thus, such deals were better described as second-chance opportunities. The new regulation aims to make the terms of such deals clearer and promote responsible gambling at the same time.

Why the free bet terminology was an issue

To be clear, such promotions are still permissible in Pennsylvania. The sportsbooks simply can’t advertise them using language that implies there is no risk involved any longer.

The sports betting apps that marketed themselves using risk-free bet language were never hiding the terms of the promotions. However, legislators and regulators across the nation have become increasingly turned off by the strategy. Regulators in New York have recently made a similar change.

The number of online sportsbook users who regularly read the full terms of promotional deals is low. Thus, many have taken such marketing materials to imply that even if their bets proved to be losses, they would get their money back.

The reality, however, is that to recoup their losses, they have to win a subsequent bet with commensurate odds. In addition to promoting clarity, regulators have been concerned about responsible gambling.

This change ensures that Pennsylvania sportsbooks can’t imply that residents can gamble without any element of risk. Risk is inherent to gambling. Many sportsbook operators have already voluntarily changed their strategies to fit this new emphasis.

The new rules in Pennsylvania mean any app that persists runs a risk itself.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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