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Tonko introduces bill to prohibit sportsbook ads across media platforms

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New York Rep. Paul Tonko has proposed legislation aimed at curbing the proliferation of sports betting advertisements on television, radio, and the internet, citing concerns over the potential for increased addiction, particularly among young people.

Tonko, a Democrat representing the Albany area, has expressed worries that the accessibility of mobile sports betting apps is exacerbating addictive behaviors and believes that legislative intervention is necessary to prevent a looming crisis.

The surge in legal sports betting, accelerated by the 2018 Supreme Court decision granting states the authority to legalize such activities, has brought about a proliferation of mobile apps catering to gamblers. Tonko highlights the expansive nature of these platforms, enabling bets not only on game outcomes but also on specific plays and nuances within matches, raising concerns about the heightened risk of addiction.

In New York state, where mobile sports betting was introduced in 2022, data from the state Comptroller’s Office reveals a significant influx of revenue from taxes generated by the industry. However, alongside this financial gain, there has been a concerning uptick in problem gambling-related calls to the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, prompting Tonko to question the societal costs associated with addressing addiction.

Tonko’s proposed legislation draws inspiration from historical precedents, notably the landmark 1970 law that restricted advertising for cigarettes. He argues that similar restrictions on sportsbook advertisements are necessary to shield the most vulnerable segments of society from the onslaught of marketing tactics employed by the gambling industry.

The American Gaming Association (AGA), representing the gambling industry, opposes Tonko’s bill, asserting that it infringes upon free speech rights. Chris Cylke, a senior vice president of the AGA, contends that such restrictions would obscure legal options for consumers while benefiting illegal offshore operators. Despite facing resistance, Tonko remains optimistic that as public awareness of the issue grows, support for regulatory measures will strengthen among his congressional colleagues.

In a separate initiative, Tonko has petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to recognize gambling disorder as a mental health and substance use disorder, emphasizing the importance of ensuring adequate coverage for treatment services. An HHS spokesperson confirmed receipt of Tonko’s letter and committed to providing a direct response to his inquiries, underscoring the multifaceted approach being pursued to address the complex challenges posed by the expansion of sports betting in the United States.

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