Note: The opinions expressed in this column are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sports Handle and Better Collective.
The “responsible gambling” collaboration announced by the National Football League (NFL) and National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) is dangerously flawed. If this were merely about phrasing and a poor choice of words, no response would be necessary. Quite the opposite is true.
The collaboration between the NFL and NCPG is ethically, scientifically, and legally deficient public policy, and a threat to public health. Simply stated, the NFL and the NCPG are now partners in the gambling establishment, and the responsible gambling model is the antithesis of harm prevention.
For many decades the gambling industry has campaigned for self-regulation and utilized the term “responsible gaming” as both a sword and shield to avoid government regulation and reform. First, and foremost, gambling disorder and gambling-related harm are not a game. The decades-long effort by the gambling industry to invoke the words “game” and “gaming” is part of a concerted strategy to avoid accountability for harm caused by gambling.
The gambling industry strategy includes labeling people who suffer harm from gambling and gambling disorder as “irresponsible.” At this very moment the NFL and NCPG are touting their new joint venture, “Stick to Your Game Plan. Always Bet Responsibly,” and attempting to shift blame to people who struggle or suffer harm from gambling.
Today @NFL announced a ground-breaking #responsiblegambling initiative in partnership w/ NCPG that includes funding to help us take our services to the next level.
That includes this website: https://t.co/xY2rML7SzI
Read the press release here: https://t.co/7yqhBLWmxk pic.twitter.com/K4APmdhiTX
— NCPG (@NCPGambling) October 20, 2021
Harm prevention in an era of more, more, more
Gambling is an addictive product. In DSM-5 (2013) the American Psychiatric Association recognized gambling disorder as an addiction just like heroin, opioids, alcohol, cocaine, and tobacco. Further, according to the World Health Organization, more than 350 million people globally each year demonstrate symptoms of a problem related to gambling or gambling disorder.
Meanwhile, the gambling industry has become the gambling establishment, a financial partnership among gambling operators, professional and collegiate sports leagues and teams, television, media, government, and obviously, the NCPG. Each member of this partnership is fully cognizant of the fact the product they are promoting is addictive and a risk to public health.
With all addictive products and substances, harm prevention policy must begin with regulating and controlling how the product or substance is delivered to the public. Gambling advertising has overtaken television and radio. Media giants such as Comcast, Disney, and Fox are permitted to have ownership interests in sportsbooks and casinos. This would be unimaginable with alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Further, we would never condone a system where you buy a pack of cigarettes and the next 100 are given to you “risk free.” Similarly, society would not tolerate a bar seeking to accelerate alcohol consumption by using technology to deliver another drink to your hand every 40 seconds. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the NFL and its official sports betting partners do as they utilize dangerous and predatory tactics such as “risk-free bets” and in-game wagering.
This is not the appropriate forum to examine all the systemic flaws with responsible gaming policy. For now, a cursory review of an ethical deficiency shall suffice.
Prior to 2018 the NFL eschewed sports gambling. As Commissioner Roger Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, testified to Congress:
The spread of legalized sports gambling would change forever–and for the worse–what our games stand for and how they are perceived.
Things changed in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Murphy v NCAA and cleared the way for states to legalize sports gambling. The NFL has systematically embraced gambling with an avaricious thirst for increased action and the revenue derived therefrom. This pattern strikes at the heart of why the NFL/NCPG partnership is such dangerous policy.
The NFL strategy can be summarized as maximizing relationships with gambling by offering non-stop and ever-increasing action. Gambling is now available on literally every play in each NFL game. The NFL and its official sports betting and casino partners tout non-stop action, and the relationship with Genius Sports ensures that gambling operators will be able to deliver constant gambling to phones, tablets, and television remotes enabling betting with each snap of the ball.
Special customer offers only make things worse
Simultaneously, the NFL and NCPG sit in complicit silence as their “official sports betting partners” inundate television and social media with gambling advertising and utilize aggressive and predatory tactics such as “risk-free bets,” “bonuses,” and “odds boosts” to entice people to chase both additional action and losses.
These tactics, and many more employed by the gambling establishment, are the opposite of harm prevention and are directly connected to gambling-related harm. As with all addictive products, the more exposure to action, the greater the harm caused. It is as certain as night following day, yet the NFL/NCPG urge the public and government regulators to look the other way and ignore the harm because they have climbed in bed together with responsible gaming/stick to your game plan strategy.
The time has come to expose responsible gaming as dangerously flawed public policy. Perhaps the best way is to draw an analogy to tobacco. We would never permit the tobacco industry to self-regulate and market cigarettes as aggressively as possible and justify the related harm because the industry contributes money for chemotherapy and education. Such is the NFL/NCPG partnership.
The NFL and the gambling industry have financially co-opted the NCPG as a willing member of the gambling establishment. The alleged justification is the money the NFL “donates” for education and treatment, as we are asked to overlook the ever-increasing addictive nature of the gambling action delivered by the NFL and its sports betting and casino partners. This is nothing short of enabling dangerously flawed and ethically compromised policy.
Perhaps there can be a silver lining from this failed initiative, as greed and avarice rarely prevail over the long run. Sadly, for the foreseeable future people and families will continue to suffer unnecessary and irreparable harm at the hands of the gambling establishment.
Absent ethical reform and regulation, the financial power of the gambling establishment will ignore harm prevention. It will take the work of independent advocates to raise awareness of the dangers promulgated by the responsible gaming model. With time and effort, the opportunity to develop meaningful, powerful, and ethical reform will manifest at both the state and federal levels.
With the NFL/NCPG partnership, the National Football League knew exactly what it was doing, and the resulting propaganda and publicity speak for themselves. As for the National Council on Problem Gambling, it must immediately renounce this dangerous collaboration or cease describing itself as an advocacy organization. There is a place for the National Council, but not when its efforts are the antithesis of harm prevention.