PGCB severely limits use of ‘free bets’ in PA sports betting marketing

ban sign
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The use of terms such as “free bet”, “risk-free” and the like, have been at the center of industry and regulatory debate throughout 2023. Regulators in Ohio and Massachusetts have moved to ban the terms within their licensees’ marketing materials. 

Now, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) is making similar demands of its own license holders. 

SBC Americas has seen an email sent to licensees last Friday requesting that Pennsylvania’s operators revise promotional materials to reflect updated guidance. 

Under the clarified guidelines and standards set out by Executive Director Kevin O’Toole, marketing material that contains betting promotions, bonuses and credits must meet both the following criteria: 

  • Not be described as free unless the promotion, bonus or credit is free. If the player has to risk or lose their own money, terms such as “risk-free” are banned.
  • Not be described as risk-free if the player needs to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the risk-free bet.

This news comes shortly after Barstool Sportsbook ran its Can’t Lose Parlay offer in Massachusetts, stemming a debate over whether it breaches the Massachusetts Gaming Commission guidelines on advertising. 

At the time of writing, the MGC is deciding how to proceed in the way it investigates and potentially reprimands Barstool over the promotion. 

Meanwhile, similar breaches have been identified in Ohio, where BetMGM, Caesars, and DraftKings were all chastised for their use of risk-free in their marketing materials in the first week of the online sports betting market launch. Wednesday, BetMGM accepted its $150,000 from the Ohio Casino Control Commission, meaning all three operators have agreed to pay the six-figure fines related to their advertising.

Now that PGCB has joined regulators in MA, OH, and NY in prohibiting or limiting the use of “free bets”, “risk-free” and similar terms, it is clear that the discussion is not going away any time soon. Whether operators can adjust their advertising practices to stay within the right side of the regulations remain to be seen.