Facebook Policy Change for Sports Betting Ads — an Advance Warning to Bookmakers?

The social media giant has made changes to its gambling ad policy, which created stricter guidelines for sports betting sites to promote their brand. Is it a sign of more advertising changes to come?

Last Updated: Nov 25, 2022 2:36 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, Facebook's parent company, Meta, updated its policy regarding ads that promote "common types of gambling," which ostensibly targets major sports betting sites that have used its platform as part of their overall promotional strategy.

Legal sports betting operators will now be obliged to submit an official pre-approval request form to Meta Platforms before any ads will be allowed to appear on Facebook. The revised gaming ad rules released by Meta read as follows:

"To run ads that promote online gambling and gaming, advertisers will need to request written permission from Meta using this form and provide evidence that the gambling activities are appropriately licensed by a regulator or otherwise established as lawful in territories they want to target... Additionally, Meta doesn’t allow targeting for online gambling and gaming ads to people under the age of 18."

Meta also stipulated that prospective advertisers will be required to seek pre-approval for ads in each territory or in "any new territory they are seeking to target."

Cosmetic or material change?

Facebook had already implemented a ban on any form of sportsbook advertising in any country or state where such ads are prohibited, while also quashing ads that targeted those under 18.

This latest policy change seems to signal that Facebook is intent on enforcing strict adherence to its policies, with an ever-growing interest in promoting and executing responsible gaming.

It was only last month that tech giant Apple pulled sportsbook ads that had been running on product pages in its App Store, after developers complained that they did not want their public image to be tarnished by any possible connection to wagering.

Thus far, none of the major sportsbooks have reacted to the announcement.

Meta announcement follows NYT series

The timing of Meta's new guidelines announcement came only a few days after the New York Times published a four-part series on the national expansion of regulated sports betting. 

Titled "A Risky Wager," the investigative pieces posed serious questions about the impact of sportsbook advertising on the public and problem gambling, calling out that sportsbooks have poured billions of dollars into highly attractive promo ads that attempt to lure customers with "risk-free" bets that refund losing wagers — albeit with the provision that the refunded sums must be placed on new bets.

The highly critical NYT piece led the American Gaming Association (AGA) to reply immediately via a series of Twitter messages that contest many of the newspaper's points.

The AGA's thread reiterated that the sports-betting industry is heavily regulated by the federal government and state gaming bodies (meaning obtaining a gaming license is a difficult task), illegal/unregulated sportsbooks need to be removed from the industry, and the vast majority of sports bettors are familiar with responsible gaming tools.

"We'll continue our investment in advancing a safe, well-regulated environment that protects our consumers and generates benefit for communities," read the final tweet of the thread.

Meta announcement could inspire clampdown 

One cause of concern for sportsbooks is the possibility that the new Facebook gaming ad guidelines will give added ammunition to state regulators that have had to navigate a difficult path with respect to advertising regulation.

Ontario, for example, has already set a strict example after becoming the first Canadian province to implement a total ban on ads that promoted free bets and promotional offers since launching a private market for internet gambling in April. 

Massachusetts has been one of the key US states trying to address the issue of gaming advertising in a rigorous way. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) held a virtual discussion of gaming ads earlier this month with representatives from the gaming and broadcast industries, with concerns about over-the-top sports betting ads being front and center.

"I have a real fear that we will be inundated once we stand up sports wagering in a way that Massachusetts may not be prepared," MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said during the November 14 meeting. "We've seen some of this in the cannabis industry. I suspect sports wagering might even be more intense." 

Casey Clark, senior vice president of the American Gaming Association, stated that the industry as a whole is "working together on setting standards proactively and voluntarily."

The one official present from major pro sports leagues, Marquest Meeks, vice president and deputy general counsel for MLB, also pointed out that the states "have to permit enough advertising so that the legalized regulated sports books can draw customers away from (the) illegal market."

Looking abroad

Meanwhile, in Europe, Italy has banned all forms of sports-betting advertising since mid-2018, while Ireland is about to follow suit by introducing legislation that will ban gaming advertising.

And in Belgium, the Belgian National Lottery announced that it will halt all betting ads for the duration of the World Cup, while earlier this year the Belgian government was exploring a ban on gaming advertisements in the country overall.

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