Currently, there are only four states (with Connecticut about to be the fifth) where online sportsbooks and online casinos exist side-by-side. And in those states, the operators are starting to fall all over themselves in an effort to get sportsbook bettors to enter the -EV world of the casino.
And they’re doing it with good reason.
As of Jan. 22, 2021, Michigan residents were allowed to jump online and place bets on sports and enjoy their time in online casinos. Through September, the sportsbook side of the operation netted the operators $60.5 million in adjusted gross sports betting receipts, while the casino side netted the operators $606.3 million.
Some of that discrepancy might be chalked up to COVID restrictions on brick-and-mortar casinos, as well as the “newness” of online casinos. After all, in New Jersey, where online casino play has been legal since 2013, the online casinos are “only” doubling up the online sportsbooks in revenue.
Either way you cut it, though, in states where online sportsbooks and casinos cohabitate — Pennsylvania and West Virginia are the other two currently, with Connecticut about to go live — casinos are where the operators make the lion’s share of their money. So it’s no wonder that if you live in one of those states and have a sportsbook account, you’ll find yourself constantly bombarded with casino come-ons.
The operators have thus far been modest with the enticements: Play $5 worth of blackjack or roulette on DraftKings, get $5 in casino credits. Maybe play $10 in slots, get another $10 free credits. Every day, DraftKings has an offer like that.
BetMGM, FOX Bet, FanDuel … the list goes on with the modest come-ons. In New Jersey — where I live — there’s a steady stream of promos on the sportsbook side, inviting bettors to dip their toes into the world of Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania II and friends.
But now, the “Hey, why not dabble a bit in the casino?” facade has been blown to smithereens by Caesars. They’re not even pretending anymore, not gently nudging. Rather, they’re sending emails like this in the middle of football games: “Behold this casino/football bonus!” is the subject header, and once inside, the come-on isn’t so much a come-on as it is a B.A. Baracus-style 2-x-4 over the noggin.
“I’m sure you’re ready for some football today. But if you add some casino into the mix, we’ll give you a bonus,” reads the body of the email. “During the promotional window, 9-10pm ET, pull up your casino and start earning. Play during commercial breaks (not when our commercials are airing, obviously), during timeouts, or if the game turns out to be a blowout.”
I’m as pro-gambling as you can be, and I certainly dabble in the casinos now and again, but wowza — if the game is a blowout, come on over and play some -EV games just for kicks is not cool.
This is beyond a call to action. It’s a request — a request to gamble while literally already gambling. It’s begging people to very possibly get in way over their heads.
It’s like stopping by your friendly neighborhood marijuana dispensary, and while you’re thumbing through the inventory, an employee says, “I also have some crack! Wanna give that a whirl?”
Keeping people ‘in-action’
“Sports betting is being used to entice people into the constant, never-ending action of the online casino. It’s a public policy nightmare,” said Harry Levant, who knows a thing or two about problem gaming.
Levant was a lawyer in Philadelphia with a gambling problem. Soon, he was no longer a lawyer, having lost his license due to his addiction, but still had a gambling problem. He said he came within seconds of killing himself in an Atlantic City hotel.
But he’s turned his life around and is now getting set to graduate La Salle University with a master’s degree in counseling and psychology, with a sub-specialty in addictions. He also plans on pursuing a Ph.D, and in the meantime, he consults for Jeremy Frank and Associates, which specializes in addiction counseling.
“If you watch all of the advertisements, all the marketing, it’s to keep people in action,” Levant said. “You can’t go into a bar and the bartender says, ‘Hey, look, buy your first beer here and the next 10 are on us.’ But a sportsbook can say to you, ‘Hey, bet a dollar, if anyone gets a hit in the game, you win 100 credits to chase on our site.’
“What we’re doing with sports betting and casinos are the antithesis of alcohol and tobacco, where we’re trying to make sure access to this material is limited. Here, all of the players — the government, the industry, and now the sports leagues and teams themselves — have a vested interest in keeping people in action, which is where harm comes from. And sportsbooks cross-advertising their casino games is certainly geared to keep people in action.”
Despite Levant’s woes with wagering, he is still 100% pro-gambling. He just wishes the operators would throttle it down a bit.
“It’s not ultimately the person who succumbs to gambling disorder, which is what the industry quotes,” Levant said. “It’s anyone who might be at risk of harm. And the harm comes from the access to action. With the marriage of technology, sports, media, and the casinos, you have instant access to the action. It can only cause harm. How much harm will it cause? We don’t know yet. How do I know this? Because we had problem gamblers before it went online and legal, and they couldn’t bet on Russian table tennis or put $500 on a blackjack hand on their phone.”
Advice for the other 45 states
To be clear: From a business perspective, the cross promotion of sportsbooks and casinos makes perfect sense. I’m example 1A of this. I never downloaded an online casino app, despite it being legal in New Jersey. But once sportsbooks got the go-ahead, I started downloading all of the sportsbooks. And those casino come-ons were — and remain — enticing.
DraftKings Casino No Brainer
Play $1 on Touchdown Blackjack and get $5 in credits + $5 free bet! 🤝 pic.twitter.com/g5wEvcfTw3
— Promo Guy (@PromoGuyMI) October 11, 2021
But I’ve gone down the casino rabbit hole a few too many times for my liking and have chased losses to the point where … well, where a problem was just about one blackjack hand away.
Do I think online casinos should be banned? Absolutely not. But I do think — and this is really a call to action for the politicians in the other 45 states — that when/if online casinos become legal in your neck of the woods, you should treat them and their sportsbook brethren as church and state. Keep ‘em separated. By merging the two, you’re — pun alert! — doubling down on the chances of developing problem gamblers.
“Previous analyses of online gambling behavior have suggested that problem gamblers who are sports bettors and who are casino gamblers may have different characteristics,” said Dr. Mack Costello, a professor of psychology who runs the Gambling Research Lab at Rider University in Lawrence, N.J. “As each at-risk gambler starts to use more of the other site, we may see more problems more rapidly for them, as general behavioral characteristics of problem gambling online include higher and more frequent bets, as well as chasing losses.”
Shared wallets and shared logins for sportsbooks and casinos may seem like a benefit to the would-be gambler, making things easier to access. But clearly, this also makes it more likely casino gamblers will cross the border into the sportsbooks, and sportsbook devotees will — much like the operators want them to do — mosey on into the casino.
“If we’re going to take a known addictive product, and we’re going to say to the government, industry, and professional sports, ‘You’re going to make a lot of money on this,’ we’re going to have to regulate it in a way where it’s as safe as possible,” Levant said. “Clearly, we’re not even close to that right now.”