The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has joined the ranks of state regulators cracking down on what they deem online sportsbook operators’ inappropriate use of “free bet” and “risk-free bet” in their promotional offers.
A notice was sent Friday by Kevin Kile, director of sports wagering operations for the agency, to those running the 14 online sportsbooks in Pennsylvania, which represent about 93% of the legal sports betting done in the state.
His email to operators, which was provided to Sports Handle by the PGCB, read:
At the direction of Executive Director Kevin O’Toole, we would like to request that you revise the promotional terms and conditions AND all applicable advertising to remove references to “free bet,” “risk free bet,” “free play” or any other similar language which infers that a promotional offer is free when it actually is not.
The notice in Pennsylvania follows prohibitions by regulators on the use of such terminology in Ohio and Massachusetts — newly legalized sports betting states — and the voluntary drop of such phrasing by multiple major operators in recent months.
It’s possible that there are cases where customers don’t have to put up their own funds to claim an offer and “free” or “risk-free” is still acceptable wording, but Kile advised: “If the patron/player has to risk or lose their own money or if there are conditions attached to their own money, the offer must clearly disclose those terms and shall not be described as free.”
Striving for consistency among operators
Although the email to operators stated “it appears you are currently using this language in some circumstance,” there were no specific instances of inappropriate marketing that caused the notice to go out at this time, according to Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s gaming board.
“We saw a number of the providers changing how they approach this on their own, and we thought it best if we could get everyone on the same page,” he said. “The thinking was let’s try to make sure we can get this consistent across the industry.”
No regulatory fines have been issued in Pennsylvania over such marketing issues, but the Ohio Casino Control Commission recently issued $150,000 fines each against DraftKings, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook for launch-related violations that the regulator said included improper use of “free” and/or “risk-free” wording to entice customers.
Such wording since the launch of legal sports betting in U.S. states has often been connected to offers where a new customer’s account is replenished with bet credits if they place an initial wager that loses. The funds placed in their accounts in such cases cannot be accessed for withdrawal, however — they can only be used to place an additional bet, which may also lose.
Major operators are more apt now to describe such offers as a form of bet “insurance” or “second chance” bet credits or similar phrasing that avoids implying the customer is being given free money or can’t lose or lacks any financial obligation to take advantage of the offer.