Two partner bills–Senate Bill 715 and House Bill 1942–which would legalize online sports betting in Texas, address responsible gambling through a series of safeguards, ranging from self-exclusion lists to creating a problem gambling grant fund.
How far the bills advance may depend on the ability of this regulatory framework to address Texans’ most pressing gaming concerns.
While most forms of gambling are illegal in the state, Texas problem gambling resources are still available to all gamblers who need them.
Mobile phones make an easy gateway to gambling platforms
The internet has revolutionized the US gaming landscape, bringing more access to gaming than ever before. The advent of sportsbook apps and online casino gaming makes mobile phones an easy gaming access point for anyone who owns one.
Today, virtually everyone, including children and teens, has a mobile device. While parents have ways to restrict access on those devices, they still worry that their children could carry a mobile casino in their back pockets.
A sobering thought considering teens are two to four times more susceptible to developing a gaming problem than adults, according to Algamus.org, a gambling treatment facility.
Concerns such as these compelled the creation of the regulatory framework within SB 715 and HB 1942.
Responsible gaming provisions in SB 715
SB 715, filed by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, sits in the Senate State Affairs Committee awaiting a public hearing. HB 1942 already received a House hearing, and is still pending consideration by the House State Affairs Committee. The bills’ text indicates numerous safeguards, particularly for college students.
The bills require sports wagering operators to ensure their ads do not target individuals under 21. Since most college students are under 21, mobile sports betting operators would be prohibited from advertising on Texas college campuses.
The Texas Lottery Commission, which would administer sports betting in the state, may not authorize sports wagering involving youth sports, including UIL competitions and other high school and prep sports.
Additionally, interactive sports wagering companies must verify the age of participants through official documents such as a driver’s license or passport. They must also use geolocation services to ensure that only individuals physically located in Texas may place bets.
Operators will be required to prevent wagering on prohibited events, such as youth sports, and prevent individuals from wagering as agents or proxies.
An important aspect of the bill is the stipulation that the commission establish, implement and administer a voluntary self-exclusion program.
Individuals must be allowed to restrict themselves from placing wagers under the voluntary exclusion program. In addition, operators must provide information about or links to resources related to problem gaming and prevention, including a toll-free crisis helpline approved by the commission.
Sports wagering players may not open multiple accounts with any operator when establishing interactive accounts. Multi-accounting is the practice of registering multiple accounts to maximize chances and profits. But this method of betting can quickly get out of hand.
Prohibited from opening an interactive account are individuals under 21, anyone on the exclusion program and anyone whom the law has barred.
The bill also prohibits selling or transferring an account or balance to another registered player. It also outlaws any virtual private network or technology that may obscure or falsify a player’s true physical location.
Finally, 2% of tax revenue generated through online sports betting would be placed in a “problem gaming and addiction grant fund” to fund problem gaming programs in the state.
Where could SB 715 and HB 1942 do more to protect Texans?
Most of SB 715 and HB 1942’s safeguards align with the American Gaming Association’s new guidelines for their Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering.
The updated rules are the most significant changes to the code since its inception in 2019. They include enhanced protections for college-aged audiences by disallowing college partnerships that promote, market or advertise sports wagering activity.
One factor the AGA covers that Texas sports betting legislation does not is the language in sports betting advertisements.
AGA President and CEO Bill Miller explained how “advertising plays an essential role in migrating consumers away from predatory illegal sportsbooks and into the protections of the legal, regulated market while providing responsible gaming resources.”
As such, AGA recommends banning all ad language using the expression “risk free.”
Texas lawmakers would also be wise to turn the lens onto ad language. As many first-time mobile bettors find out, operators dangle a daunting number and variety of promo offers to entice bettors. Learning what they all mean is one thing; being deceived by a “free bet” that is not free is something else and an issue that can be curtailed by effective regulation.
Another area lawmakers could consider is fortifying sports betting legislation language by imposing a monthly spending cap whereby bettors would need to prove a significant monthly income to bet above the monthly cap.
Though it did not pass, a similar spending cap was included in a Georgia sports betting amendment that the National Council on Problem Gambling commended for the lengths it took to address problem gambling.
College campuses are concerned
Studies have found that university students are at the highest risk for problem gaming. According to The Associated Press, research conducted from 2007 to 2014 showed that “75% to 80% of university students had gambled in the past year.” According to the National Library of Medicine, about 16% of college students today have gambling problems.
No doubt an important factor to consider should Texas legalize mobile gaming. After all, Texas has the second-highest student enrollment in the country at 1,567, 878.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, believes there could be a link between college students’ vulnerability to gaming and several factors, most notably:
- interest in sports;
- belief in one’s own skill;
- and the underdevelopment of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps control impulsive behavior but isn’t fully developed until age 25.
Despite this evidence, most universities have not taken the time to develop meaningful policies, educational programs or restrictions on sports betting to address these issues.
In states where mobile sports betting is legal, it’s clear that gaming companies are targeting college students through various marketing channels.
These companies, however, claim the ads – which can be seen on college campuses, scoreboards and banners at athletic events; on academic buildings; and even in campus emails – are not geared toward students.
To counter this problem, some believe colleges should prohibit gaming entirely since the legal age of betting in most states is 21 and most students at four-year institutions are usually 21 and younger.
Two centers take a closer look
To examine how universities deal with the issue in more detail, the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland teamed up to conduct a survey.
It was discovered that of 145 Division I public universities that were asked to share their campus policies addressing problem gaming, only 23% had published sports betting policies.
“We would like to see more colleges and universities if they don’t have a policy, (to) develop a policy,” said Mary Drexer, program director for the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
While some universities prohibit betting on their own sports, such as Purdue, others, including Stony Brook in New York, do not allow students to gamble for money or other valuables on university property.
Other policies, however, don’t distinguish between sports wagers placed on or off campus. Some policies only address state law, while some prohibit gambling by student-athletes, based on NCAA policy.
Sportsbooks make deals with universities
Adding to the conflict are online sports betting companies that have been striking deals with colleges for some time now. In 2020, the University of Colorado and PointsBet signed what was believed to be the first sponsorship deal between a gaming company and a university.
Since then, at least seven other universities, including Michigan State and Louisiana State, have accepted similar sponsorship contracts.
As anticipated, these deals drew negative reactions from those concerned about the vulnerability of college-aged students to potential gaming problems.
But what’s really concerning is that the terms of these agreements are mostly shielded from public view. That’s because universities strike their deals through third-party companies set up to sell sports sponsorships on behalf of the school; privately held companies are not subject to open law records.
Such a lack of transparency leads many, including gaming addiction experts, to assume foul play.
“Anytime that you can’t be transparent about something you’re doing, it probably indicates that there are some issues,” Whyte said. “These colleges should be concerned about the impact of gaming addiction among especially underage students.”
How far can legislation go to stop problem gambling?
So, how many potential pitfalls in a legal market can legislation such as SB 715 and HB 1942 address? Certainly not all of them. As the industry evolves and laws change at the federal level, operators interested in protecting their bottom lines will alter their consumer engagement methods faster than laws can change.
Texans should demand nothing less than the highest standard in responsible gaming regulation from its legislation. On top of that, it must also demand the same level of accountability and integrity from its academic institutions.
In the end, a residence hall director, a college professor or other college students will probably be the first lines of defense for young Texans exhibiting problem gambling symptoms.