The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (“PGCB”) has announced that it will be banning the use of the term “Free Bet” in any sports betting advertising conducted across the state by any medium.

What’s the precedent for advertising bans?

Most operators across the United States have significantly curtailed, or been much more careful with marketing language after the tightening of responsible gaming screws and harsher marketing guidelines in states such as Ohio and Massachusetts. Ohio has already distributed hefty fines to operators, including $250,000 to Barstool for promoting a sportsbook to college students at the Barstool College Football Show at the University of Toledo.

DraftKings was fined $500,000 for multiple breaches of Ohio’s code. Firstly, it was found to have sent a mailer advertisement for its sportsbook to a mailing list of those not of age to gamble, and secondly using language such as “free” or “risk-free” bets.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board on Friday informed all PA sports betting operators by letter that the term “free bet” is no longer permitted. The PGCB had previously indicated that most sports betting operators had already stopped using the terminology on their own, but a few have continued to use it despite tighter responsible gaming controls. A spokesperson from PGCB said: “There were a small number which are still using the terminology in promotional material and advertising and we requested that they refrain from that term in future advertising and promotions”.

What does the Pennsylvania gambling landscape look like?

The most recent turnover figures reported in Pennsylvania were for January, in which sports betting adjusted gross revenue rose 22.0 percent year on year to $39.3 million. Of the $39.3 million, $36.2 million was from online wagering and just $3 million from retail sportsbooks. The increase in adjusted gross revenue came despite a year on year decrease in betting handle, with handle falling from $793.7 million in January 2022 to $772.3 million in 2023.

FanDuel, partnered with Valley Forge Casino Resort took the most with $26.9 million in adjusted gross revenue from $313 million in handle, beating Barstool comfortably at Hollywood Casino at the Meadows and Hollywood Casino at Morgantown who took $4.1 million and $2.2 million adjusted gross revenue respectively.

Pennsylvania offers commercial casino gaming at 10 land based casino resorts and six racinos, which all operate retail sports betting as well as electronic gaming devices and table games. All of the regulation falls under the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

In 2021, total commercial casino gaming revenue reached over $4.8 billion. Pennsylvania is one of seven states with legalized online gaming and received $1.11 billion in revenue from internet gaming in 2021.

What regulatory change could we see in 2023?

Pennsylvania’s figures continue to be on par with, if not better than the hardest hitters in the United States of America. Pennsylvania sits 5th in the most populous of US states, below New York, Florida, Texas and California.

The regulatory landscape could change this year to include online gaming in New York, which they’re trying to squeeze through legislature. In addition, Texas sports betting wheels are in motion and commercial analysts believe there’s an outside chance it could reach the ballot. Proposition 26 and Proposition 27 for legalized sports betting in California fell at the final hurdle, getting voted comprehensively against at the ballot. It won’t be able to go before legislature until 2024 at the earliest.