US Rep Plans to Introduce SAFE Bet Act

Bill Would Ban Sports Betting Federally With Exemptions

A New York congressman is seeking to strictly regulate the online sports betting industry on a federal level by essentially banning online betting but allowing exemptions for states which have already legalized it.

Paul Tonko, a Democrat from upstate Amsterdam, said he is planning to introduce a bill called the SAFE Bet Act later in 2024 which would prohibit the advertising of certain gambling promotions and would prohibit any gambling advertising between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm local time.

The bill would also prohibit gambling advertising during broadcasts of live sporting events as well as any advertising which shows viewers how to gamble.

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Tonko’s proposed legislation would also seek to curtail the use of artificial intelligence by online gambling operators and require sportsbook operators to conduct so-called “affordability checks” on users before accepting certain wagers.

There would be further restrictions on deposits using credit cards, operators building statistical profiles of bettors for promotion targeting, and betting on amateur sports.

While Tonko has not officially sought to introduce his bill in Congress just yet, there is likely to be some support among his colleagues even if the bill — in its current iteration at least — looks dead in the water.

Tonko’s home state has benefited greatly from the widespread expansion of online sports betting as have the representatives and senators of many other states where online sports betting has been legalized.

There is momentum to institute guardrails on the endless proliferation of gambling ads and concerns over the use of artificial intelligence, however, so that is probably where he will garner the most bipartisan support.

The Gambling Ads May Need To Be Reined In

While there are existing laws on what sportsbook operators can and cannot say in their advertisements, they — for the most part — are able to put whatever they want in ads with some limited exceptions.

As we saw this weekend with the controversy over ESPN’s Rece Davis calling a March Madness over/under bet “a risk-free investment”, sportsbooks are not allowed to guarantee winnings to bettors or avoid the truth about how sports betting is a risky endeavor in which they can lose money.

But, they can push scores and odds to viewers and encourage them to bet in any number of ways, so long as they do so with that particular operator.

Often, it’s not clear to the average viewer, who might not have much experience with sports betting, what exactly they should be doing if they do decide to bet on sports.

TV commercials may do a great job of directing users to deposit their money and place same-game parlays or live bets, but does the Average Joe really know what they’re getting into? Likely not and the near-ubiquity of ads running during games and studio shows — from morning until night — makes that problem worse.

So, Tonko’s SAFE Bet bill does seem like a reasonable attempt at putting restrictions on betting advertisements.

The idea of a daily window where gambling ads aren’t able to run and a blanket ban on mid-game ads are ambitious and unlikely to ever be passed into law but they could lead to smaller yet still impactful changes, like not allowing companies to promote live bets for currently in-progress games.

There are many ways where the advertising component could be put in check.

Artificial Intelligence Is A Flashpoint Topic

Artificial intelligence has seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives over the past few years and it’s no different for gambling sites.

Sportsbook operators can use bettors’ profiles — such as their past bets, their common wager amounts, their bankroll and their gambling tendencies — with AI to create customizable, individually tailored betting promotions and offers that can be particularly effective at getting users to take bets they otherwise might not.

If that sounds like a scary proposition to you, then you’re in agreement with Tonko whose SAFE Bet bill would include a prohibition on sportsbook operators using AI to track bettors’ bets and target them with personalized betting suggestions.

Specifically, this prohibition would aim to reduce targeted microbetting — like when someone bets on the outcome of the next play in football or the next pitch in baseball — because of how uniquely addicting and dangerous these bets can be.

This is the component of Tonko’s bill that looks to have the most appeal to lawmakers.

The use of AI for profit purposes has already been shown to be massively unpopular in the arts and entertainment spaces and, in sports, it’s an issue that those who are concerned about privacy and data safety as well as the encroachment of gambling companies into peoples’ personal lives can agree on.

Even beyond targeted ads and promos, one could imagine AI being used in various other ways by sportsbook operators. The SAFE Bet bill, as currently constituted, could go a long way toward instituting much-needed protections against AI in sports betting.

For Gambling news, odds analysis, and more, visit Point Spreads Sports Magazine.

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