Federal Proposal Could Change Advertising Regulations for Sportsbooks

USA Legal Betting


  • Tonko claims that sportsbooks’ marketing tactics are predatory
  • Tonko worked with the lawyer who helped take down Big Tobacco
  • March Madness is expected to be a record-setting period for sports betting companies

A major overhaul of sports betting advertising regulations could be on the way.

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) announced on Tuesday that he will unveil a new set of policies that he hopes will serve as guidelines for what legal sportsbooks can and cannot do to attract audiences. The SAFE Bet Act will protect sports bettors amid the vast proliferation of the industry.

Sports betting is already legal in 38 states and Washington D.C., although critics of the industry worry that states are more focused on opening local markets than they are on protecting bettors.

The proposal 

Tonko announced his plan alongside three advisers from Northeastern University, one of whom was Richard Daynard, the man who developed the strategy used to take on Big Tobacco and ultimately end up reaching a $206 billion settlement. 

Daynard said late last year that he saw “uncanny” similarities in the way sports betting companies and tobacco marketed their products before the massive change in regulations. The Public Health Advocacy Institute, of which he served as president, filed a class-action lawsuit against DraftKings in Massachusetts shortly thereafter, claiming the company used “unfair and deceptive” marketing practices.

“We’re not talking about an activity. We’re not talking about gambling. This is not an attack on gambling,” said Daynard. “Whatever one thinks about gambling as it was known five years ago before the gates opened to online sports betting, this is a different product.”

Tonko agrees that legal sports betting sites use predatory means to bring customers to their sites. That includes the use of celebrities, complex promotions, and much more.

“Just as in the tobacco industry when it was determined that that industry was posing a public health situation, we have now displaced Joe Camel with celebrity spokespeople and, yes, free product,” Tonko said.

The SAFE Bet Act proposes the following changes, among others: 

  • No sportsbook advertising during live sports.
  • Eliminate “bonus” and “no-sweat” bet language.
  • Ban credit card deposits.
  • Limit customers to five daily deposits.
  • Outlaw the use of artificial intelligence to track customers’ gambling habits.

Also present during Tonko’s announcement were Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, and Harry Levant, a policy director at the institute and gambling therapist for Ethos Treatment.

Pursuing change 

Tonko has long been critical of the freedom sportsbooks have been granted since sports betting was legalized federally in 2018. He introduced the Betting on Our Future Act in February 2023 with the goal of eliminating dangerous marketing language such as “risk-free” bets. 

He’s since collaborated with Daynard, Gottlieb, and Levant to create a proposal that identifies sports betting as a matter of public health instead of a standard political topic.

“Sports always belonged to the American people, the American family,” Levant said. “Sports now belongs to the gambling industry. I am actually hopeful that leaders in the sports world—athletes, owners, league commissioners—will come forward and join us to make gambling on sports as safe as possible.”

Daynard also said that an estimated seven million Americans are afflicted with a gambling addiction. The unrelenting growth of sports betting also means that number may rise as more states open legal gambling markets.

Tonko’s announcement comes just ahead of the beginning of March Madness betting, a period from mid-March to early-April that is expected to generate $2.72 billion in bets at online sportsbooks, per the American Gaming Association (AGA). That puts it on course to nearly double the total betting from Super Bowl LVIII, which drew an average of 15,000 bets per second. 

A representative from the AGA declined to make any comments on Tonko’s proposal.