Bet responsibly? A struggle for some as sportsbook ads widen

By WAYNE PARRY Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The tagline makes the solution sound so simple: “Gamble responsibly.”
It’s anything but for those who struggle with compulsive gambling. Instead, the footnote caps a powerful new temptation as ads for sports betting emerge in states that have recently legalized an activity once banned in most of the United States.
Sharon, a 39-year-old homemaker, decided with her husband to move from New Jersey to New York specifically to get away from legalized sports betting, but still sees ads frequently that remind her of the tens of thousands of dollars in debt she racked up on a wagering app.
Charlie, an information technology professional from suburban Philadelphia, says the advertisements and easy access makes wagering “tempting as hell,” even as his losses mounted to $400,000 as he bet online while traveling on service calls.
They’ve complicated addiction recovery for Gary, a real estate agent from New Jersey who attends support group meetings and has lost nearly $2 million over a lifetime of gambling.
“It seems like every fourth commercial, there’s one telling you how easy it is to bet on sports and make money,” said Gary, who like other gamblers spoke to The Associated Press on condition that his full name not be used because of stigmas some people associate with unhealthy gambling.
“It’s right in front of my eyes, and even though I’ve been in recovery for years and go regularly to Gamblers Anonymous meetings, it’s starting to bother me,” he said. “I can feel it.”
Advertising supporting the nascent sports betting industry has not drawn the same level of scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers in the U.S. as counterparts in Europe, where several countries strictly regulate or even ban gambling ads, including those for sports betting.
One year after the U.S. Supreme Court ended an effective monopoly in Nevada, eight states have begun taking legal sports wagers. Three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws to create new markets and a handful of legislatures are still considering bills. None of the laws passed has significant restrictions for sports betting ads.
The commercial casino industry wants to keep it that way.
The American Gaming Association, the gambling industry’s main trade group and lobbying arm, recently issued voluntary guidelines for sports betting advertising in a bid to stay ahead of possible government regulation, drawing on the experience of the liquor industry to develop self-regulations.
“We want to get in front of this in a way that is meaningful,” said Sara Slane, the group’s senior vice president of public affairs. “We view the opportunity to offer sports betting on a state-by-state level as a privilege, and there needs to be responsible advertising that’s tied to that.”
Indeed, those who struggle with gambling find ads touting Super Bowl or March Madness wagers similar to beer ads tempting those with alcoholism or fast food ads enticing those with unhealthy eating habits. Though a hurdle for some, the ads are an understandable facet of expanded betting with sportsbooks chasing new customers to bet legally and leisurely, just like millions of people who visit casinos, buy lottery tickets or drink and eat without harmful consequences.
“There’s not one commercial break it seems where you don’t see one of these ads. As much as I tried to stop, there are all these incentives: a $500 free bet, we’ll refund your first bet even if you lose. They’re everywhere I look,” said Sharon, who lives in a New York TV market that’s a key target for advertisers of New Jersey sportsbooks. “It’s a constant reminder of my problem. It brings an incredible amount of guilt and shame for me, and yet there’s still this incredible temptation that these ads make worse.”
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, thinks the details of gambling ads haven’t been explored enough.
“In the U.S., if you say, ‘Gamble responsibly,’ you’ve now met the responsible gambling standard,” Whyte said. “It’s going to be a big issue. There’s heightened concern for people struggling with gambling addiction and relapse. And I don’t see a lot of discussion about this.”
Major sportsbooks all say they train their workers to spot people with potential gambling problems, offering various solutions including self-imposed betting “timeouts” for those who want them. In New Jersey, some money from licensing fees for sports betting fund compulsive gambling treatment programs, and ads are required by state law to mention a 1-800-GAMBLER telephone help line. Regulations in other states are relatively similar.
“We’re always mindful of the tone and content in our advertisements,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US. “We are committed to doing what we can to help lead the industry in seeking to minimize the harm gambling can cause to the vulnerable.”
European regulators haven’t left that up to casinos.
In 2018, Italy banned all gambling advertising — including on TV, radio and internet — as part of a “dignity decree” aimed in part at fighting gambling addiction.
Sweden is considering similar restrictions. Under new regulations in Belgium, online casinos will be banned from advertising on television. Sports betting ads will air only after 8 p.m. and no such ads will be allowed during live sports broadcasts.
England plans to ban all gambling-related ads and promotions during live sports starting in August.
European gambling giant GVC Holdings said UK laws show go even further and ban ads during replays and some other sports programming. GVC, which operates several huge brands including bwin, Ladbrokes, Sportingbet and partypoker, signed a $200 million deal last year to offer sports betting and online gambling in the U.S. with MGM Resorts International.
“The (European) market has become swamped with these advertisements,” said Martin Lycka, the company’s director of regulatory affairs.
Lycka said ideally, governments would set acceptable guidelines and individual companies would go farther than the minimums in policing their own ads.
“A balance needs to be struck,” he said.
In the U.S., leagues have generally had a hand in the content of their advertising; not long ago the NFL even stopped ads for Las Vegas casinos from airing nationally during the Super Bowl, a move that seems well antiquated now given the pending move of the Raiders to Sin City and a marketing and data deal between the league and Caesars Entertainment, one of the biggest gambling operators in the world.
Scott Kaufman-Ross, head of fantasy and gaming for the NBA, said advertising for sports betting is OK “if a fan is interested in betting and they want to bet. But if they’re not interested if they’re a problem gambler, they should not have it thrown in their face.”
Bill Ordower, executive vice president of Major League Soccer, said restraint for leagues makes sense after a backlash several years ago to daily fantasy sports ads.
“Any game you watched you were inundated with that advertising,” he said.
Fantasy sports ads became such an annoyance that they even drew attention from law enforcement, with DraftKings and FanDuel settling a dispute in New York for a combined $12 million.
For Gary, a 63-year-old real estate agent who has lost nearly $2 million gambling since his first bad bet on the Dallas Cowboys beating the Giants when he was 13, the struggle to resist advertising is made more difficult by the ease of betting online, a relatively new option in the legal gambling world outside Nevada.
“They make it so tempting. It’s the perfect drug for compulsive gamblers,” he said. “They can close the bathroom door, make all their bets, not talk to a live person, and walk back out into the living room in a minute, with no one knowing.”
John Sweeney, a professor at the University of North Carolina with backgrounds in advertising and sports communication, said questions about advertising point to a common question for gambling: Should states regulate this or is a single national standard necessary as sports betting grows?
Sweeney said he recently received mail offers for casinos in 14 states, many with their own responsible gambling programs and policies.
“This is the time when all these gambling issues will be given regulatory structure,” he said. “There’s an enormous amount at stake.”
Whyte, from the national problem gambling council, suggests that U.S. casinos dedicate 1% of their advertising budget to messages promoting responsible gambling and help for those with problems. The French lottery plans to allocate 10% of its TV ad budget to such messages, but in most other places, there is no requirement to fund responsible gambling ads.
The trajectory of sports betting in the U.S., once mainly an underground activity, makes it unclear whether the ads themselves are making people with gambling problems bet more on sports.
Neva Pryor, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, said calls to the state’s hotline that involve sports betting are up 21% since it started last year. But most of those callers say they had been betting on sports long before it became legal.
“Some people are having difficulty with the ads,” she said. “The good thing is they all have the 800-GAMBLER number at the end. You don’t see that with beer ads.”
Charlie, the IT professional, said gambling is often easier than drinking alcohol when he finds himself alone in hotels with nothing to do.
“Imagine being an alcoholic sitting home on your couch and there’s no beer in the house, and then there’s this app that you can press and magically a beer appears,” he said. “That’s the kind of access that’s out there now and it’s tempting as hell. It’s really, really hard to maintain your recovery and not bet again. Everywhere you look, someone’s urging you to gamble.”
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West Virginia Senate passes broad GOP education bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate on Monday passed a Republican education plan that would allow the state’s first charter schools, reigniting a debate that helped start a teacher strike earlier this year .
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the bill 18-15 as part of their special legislative session on education. The bill now moves to the House of Delegates.
The wide-ranging measure includes a teacher pay raise, mental health services for students and a provision that allows county boards to fire educators who strike. Senators separately passed a measure to allow school vouchers called education saving accounts.
Democrats and teachers unions opposed the bills, saying the broad-based education plan is essentially the same proposal that launched a two-day walkout by educators in February that brought dozens of teachers to the statehouse.
“We’re told that this is for students, this is for parents, this is for teachers who want change — not the overwhelming majority that I have listened to for the past couple of months,” said Democratic Sen. Stephen Baldwin, rehashing a familiar critique that Republicans are serving out-of-state interests in their push for charter schools.
Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael has repeatedly pointed at West Virginia’s poor test scores as proof lawmakers need to act on his education proposal. He has also said he folded several Democratic demands into the bill.
“The reason why we need this bill is because our students rank near last,” he said, gesturing toward a chart he made that details West Virginia’s SAT scores and other education benchmarks.
Educators again came to the Capitol to protest the bills, though their numbers dwindled as senators met over the weekend. On Saturday, they loaded both the gallery inside the chamber and the halls outside, chanting so loud that they penetrated the thick, wooden doors of the Senate and could be heard as lawmakers spoke.
On Monday, their numbers reduced to a fraction, they remained silent as lawmakers voted.
Union leaders have said that having the special session take place in the summer was a move to negate the impact of another teacher strike.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said Republican senators are ignoring the will of the people.
“All this just shows you is that this is not about what’s best for West Virginia,” he said.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice has said it would be better if the sprawling education plan was broken up into separate proposals so lawmakers would know exactly what they were voting for.
He met with lawmakers of both parties Sunday and told reporters he took issue with a provision of the bill that would cancel school sporting events on days when teachers caused a work stoppage. Senators have left that part of the bill intact and Republicans also voted to strengthen anti-strike language in the measure, a move widely criticized as retaliation for past walkouts by educators.
Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education before the regular session ended in March. Public forums on education were held statewide, at the end of which the Department of Education released a report opposing school vouchers and questioning the formation of charter schools.
Teachers in West Virginia took to the picket line in February over a similar, complex education bill that tied their pay raise in with the formation of charter schools and school vouchers.
Educators protested outside schools and packed the state Capitol during the two-day walkout. They argued that the bill was retaliation for last year’s nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance, which kicked off a national wave of teacher unrest.
The House is scheduled to reconvene late this month and is set to take up the Senate-approved plan as well as its own proposals.

City ordinance aims to curb abortion protesters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s capital city has passed an ordinance aimed at curbing protests at abortion clinics.
News outlets report the Charleston City Council voted 21-5 on Monday to approve restrictions on approaching people as they enter health care facilities. The law forbids people from blocking an entrance or exit and says protesters can’t come within 8 feet of someone who is within 100 feet of a front entrance to advocate a message or provide pamphlets without the person’s consent.
The law was drafted after police received reports of protesters yelling at people entering the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia and blocking entries.
Anti-abortion protesters threatened legal action, saying the ordinance impeded their Constitutional right to free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns in a statement about the ordinance being too broad.

Bond reduction nixed for W.Va. woman accused of decapitation

PRINCETON, W.Va. (AP) — A request for reduced bond has been denied to a woman charged in West Virginia in the death of a man who was decapitated.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports 42-year-old Roena Cheryl Mills’ request to reduce her $200,000 cash-only bond was denied Thursday. Mills is charged with first-degree murder in the 2018 death of 29-year-old Bo White, whose body found at his Lerona home while his head was found in nearby woods.
A criminal complaint says Mills later went to another home while covered in blood and armed with a pocket knife. It says homeowners called police and the Rural Retreat, Virginia, woman gave authorities a fake identity. It says she was brought in for questioning and told deputies “you have to take me back and let me get my heads.”
Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph,

West Virginia lottery winner asks to remain anonymous

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Officials say the winner of a $2 million lottery in West Virginia has asked to remain anonymous.
State Lottery Director John Myers on Monday announced that the Mega Millions drawing prize has been claimed.
He says the winning ticket was purchased at a truck stop in Sutton, West Virginia. The store that sold the ticket will get a 1% bonus.
State law allows people who win $1 million or more to remain anonymous. Myers says this is the first lottery winner in the state to choose to go unnamed, though the winner allowed lottery officials to say his or her residence is located outside of West Virginia.

Principal: I accidentally plagiarized Ashton Kutcher speech

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia principal accused of plagiarizing Ashton Kutcher in an address to his school’s graduating class says he didn’t mean to use someone else’s work.
The News and Sentinel reports Parkersburg High School Principal Kenny DeMoss issued a statement Wednesday saying he should have cited his sources in the May 23 speech, but asserted the “thoughts and ideas” were his own.
A graduate posted a video to Facebook that spliced DeMoss’ speech with Kutcher’s 2013 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards speech and has since amassed over 100,000 views. The speeches used similar wording and at times featured identical phrasing.
DeMoss says he’s upset the speech has stolen the focus from graduating students. Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook says it is a personnel matter that’s under investigation.
Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.),

Free guided hikes set for Saturday in parks across W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — National Trails Day is being celebrated with free guided hikes in West Virginia forests and parks.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that National Trails Day events will be held Saturday at more than a dozen spots across the state.
Kanawha State Forest is holding four events, including one where hikers will be taken to a closed mine entrance where a threatened bat species is known to hibernate.
The newspaper says National Trails Day was started in 1993 by the American Hiking Society to get people to check out trails in their areas.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail,

West Virginia governor appoints new judge in McDowell County

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has appointed a new judge to the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, which serves McDowell County.
Edward J. Kornish, of Welch, is set to fill the seat that will be vacated by Judge Booker T. Stephens upon his retirement from the bench, effective Friday.
Kornish has practiced law in McDowell County for 29 years. He has served as the elected prosecuting attorney in McDowell County for the past six years. He also worked as a special Assistant U.S. Attorney for the southern district of West Virginia.
Kornish also served in the military and was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia-Herzegovina during Operation Joint Endeavor, and Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Kornish retired at the rank of colonel.

Trooper charged in beating was previously cleared by agency

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia trooper federally charged in the beating of a teenager was previously cleared of wrongdoing in the case by his department.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports a recently released West Virginia State Police internal investigation says Trooper Michael Kennedy didn’t engage in criminal conduct during the November arrest of the 16-year-old.
However, Kennedy was later indicted on a charge of deprivation of rights under color of law, which describes crimes committed by on-duty police officers.
Dashcam video shows the teen driver fleeing police and crashing before being kicked, stomped on and punched by officers. Two county deputies in the video were fired and later reinstated. Kennedy and Trooper Derek Walker were fired. Walker wasn’t charged. Kennedy’s trial is set for October.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail,

Critics say FCC report overstates broadband availability

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband report is being hammered by critics who say it paints too rosy a picture of high-speed internet availability in the U.S.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined two dissenting FCC commissioners in criticizing the report released Wednesday.
The FCC’s annual Broadband Deployment Report says the country’s digital divide has “narrowed substantially,” with the number of Americans without broadband dropping more than 18%, to 21.3 million people, between 2016 and 2017. The majority of the gains were for people living in rural parts of the country, according to the report.
The agency’s two Democratic commissioners issued dissenting statements along with the report that said it was at odds with the reality of internet availability on the ground.
“This report deserves a failing grade,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote. “It concludes that broadband deployment is reasonable and timely throughout the United States. This will come as news to millions and millions of Americans who lack access to high-speed service at home.”
The FCC’s data collection methods have been routinely labeled as flawed. The commission considers an entire area covered if a service provider reports that a single location on a census block has or could have fast internet speeds.
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks wrote that the agency should change its data collection policies, pointing out that a draft version of the report was found to have overstated broadband connections in an area where about 62 million people live.
“If you are 10 steps away from your goal and you move a step-and-a -half forward, you don’t have a victory party when your work isn’t done,” Starks said.
Manchin, who has been a frequent critic of the FCC and has introduced legislation to improve coverage data, issued a statement pushing the agency for more accurate baselines.
“It’s impossible to fill gaps, if you don’t know they are there,” he said.