On June 11, an article bearing the headline “FanDuel CEO Amy Howe Wants to Help the Sports-Betting Business Grow Up” appeared in the online version of The Wall Street Journal. Here, it was reported that FanDuel was “re-evaluating the use of terms like ‘risk free’ in its advertising promotions targeting new customers.”
Shortly thereafter, on Sports Handle and other affiliated websites, the “risk-free” language in FanDuel’s promotions vanished, replaced by the phrase “no sweat.” Hence, rather than a risk-free bet, new customers are now offered a “$1000 No Sweat First Bet” — a shift that’s drawn measured praise from responsible gambling advocates and researchers who’ve long held that labeling such wagers “risk-free” was dangerously misleading, if not plainly inaccurate.
Broken down in simplest terms, a “risk-free” bet doesn’t mean bettors just get $1,000 up front from a given sportsbook to use as they please. Rather, they only get the $1,000 — in promotional betting credits, not returned currency — if they lose the initial $1,000 that they deposit, and then wager, themselves.
“Overall, ‘risk-free’ has always been problematic language to us because it’s not truly risk-free. From a messaging perspective, it was deceptive,” said Cait Huble, director of communications for the National Council on Problem Gambling. “I think the move from risk-free to no sweat shifts from risk-free to stress-free, and customers will be able to identify a difference. So shifting away from risk-free is more accurate advertising, and accurate advertising rolls into a bigger RG message.”
Problem gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl agrees — to a point.
Of the shift from “risk-free” to “no sweat,” she observed, “It’s better, but it implies that you don’t have to worry about it, and we know that’s not the case. Some individuals need to be mindful that this is something that could have significant consequences. Do I feel that it’s a step in the right direction? Yeah, I do. But is it some flip terminology that people don’t have to be mindful of their gambling engagement? Yeah. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Am I pleased to see this happening? Yes.
“We cannot demand or expect perfection right away. This is an evolving industry. Let’s get some research and evaluation around this. Let’s give this a test drive.”
‘Still an enticement’
When Dr. Timothy Fong, the co-director of UCLA’s Gambling Studies Program, was a boy, his father used to refer to stay-at-home parents as “domestic engineers.” Fong used that anecdote to explain how he feels about FanDuel’s promotional pivot.
“It’s a synonym,” he said. “For years, we’ve always used different terms. At the end of the day, what this is is still an enticement. It’s still designed to get you engaged in continued play. To me, that’s the most critical thing. … To someone who has a gambling disorder, it doesn’t matter what you call it — they will still engage in that behavior.
“I’d like to know how they came up with that term,” he added. “Who did they consult with? The origin is always very interesting. If it came from some corporate marketing person who doesn’t understand that issue, that’s tone deaf.”
Through a spokesperson, FanDuel said it wasn’t prepared to go on the record until it had made a “full transition” from “risk-free” to “no sweat.” But, according to Huble, FanDuel didn’t directly seek input from the NCPG prior to shifting the verbiage.
Same goes for Doura-Schawohl, although she did mention that FanDuel representatives had attended several of her recent presentations, during which she spent “a good portion” of time discussing “the notion of risk-free bets.”
Therefore, she feels like FanDuel took her message to heart.
“FanDuel has done a tremendous job educating themselves and engaging in educational opportunities that touch on this notion that it’s dangerous to call anything a risk-free bet,” said Doura-Schawohl. “They have really done a good job about hearing from problem gambling advocates on the dangers associated with risk-free terminology.”