25% of NJ residents don't know legal online casinos exist, and a further 50% can't differentiate them from illegal ones

Bettor Safe Campaign Raises Online Gambling Awareness, But Faces An Uphill Climb

The Bettor Safe marketing campaign had a tough job to do in raising awareness. Going into the campaign, it seemed a though the main hurdle to jump would be teaching Americans the difference between legal and illegal online gambling operators. However, the creators of the campaign discovered that they would first have to educate the public about the legality of online gambling and sports betting.

The main shock in this regard was New Jersey.

New Jersey online casinos and poker rooms have been legal and regulated by the DGE since way back in 2013. Although these forms of gambling have been legal for nearly a decade, research in February by the nonprofit Conscious Gaming (CG) revealed that more than 25% of the state’s adults either had no idea about the legality of gambling online, or believed it to be illegal altogether.

CG was set to launch its Bettor Safe campaign the following month, but clearly had its work cut out for it.

Seth Palansky – CG’s vice president of corporate social responsibility and communications – told Online Poker Report:

“It was quite eye opening how those in a mature iGaming market like New Jersey still had as much uncertainty as they did.”

Bettor Safe launch puts focus on mature markets

On March 3, CG launched Bettor Safe – “a national campaign to educate consumers about the risks of betting on illegal websites and the benefits of legal and regulated gaming options, if they choose to wager.”

CG simultaneously launched the campaign’s efforts towards a target audience in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Regulated online casinos and sportsbooks were well established in both states, but awareness was low. It wasn’t only that a quarter of residents didn’t know that these products were legal. Getting to the core of the campaign, it was also that 75% of the consumers in those states said they didn’t think they could tell the difference between a legal operator and an illegal one.

Palansky said:

“We started our efforts in advance of the March Madness basketball tournament.

On BettorSafe.org, visitors from NJ and PA can learn what legal online gambling sites look like and why they should care.

The Bettor Safe campaign

Bettor Safe tells online gamblers they need to:

  • Seek out symbols of trusted organizations like responsible gaming groups and the state regulator,
  • Suss out whether the registration process feels legitimate;
  • Check if the state regulator has in fact approved the operator;
  • Look for responsible gambling program information, which is present on all legal sites; and
  •  Avoid operators who accept cryptocurrency, since legal sites are not allowed to do this in the US at the moment

Its six-week, multichannel campaign concentrated on NJ and PA because of their mature iGaming markets, Palansky said.

In addition to a national commercial, state-specific ones ran in those two statews. Bettor Safe radio and digital ads ran until mid-April. Some ad spend changed channels as CG noticed higher-performing areas, like YouTube and Facebook.

Palansky continued:

“Video and audio ad buys were around sports programming primarily: including basketball games, poker programming, sports radio, etc.”

Palansky couldn’t share campaign metrics, such as the percentage increase in awareness of legal online gambling. However, he said that such an increase did happen. Plus, the consumer resources remain in place – being updated, as states legalize online betting. (Last week, CG added Wyoming as a legal online sports betting market visible on the Bettor Safe site.)

He added:

“We were very pleased. As a consumer awareness campaign, it is different from marketing a product. The website is the hub, which we can continue to point people towards to become better educated if they choose to partake in this activity. But we got great media coverage, industry feedback and metrics from the advertising we did.”

Industry cooperation is key

Most marketing campaigns are aimed at converting consumers into customers. Bettor Safe could’ve done that – with targeted creative and dedicated landing pages in place, among other marketing campaign best practices. However, this campaign didn’t have that goal.

Palansky said:

“We didn’t capture any customer data. The goal wasn’t to create a database. It was all genuine – do good, raise public awareness about an issue.”

To that end, it was easier to obtain cooperation even from operators who were protective of their customer data. They were willing to partner with CG to raise awareness. It helped that the operators knew CG was an independent nonprofit, despite initial monetary and tech donations coming from GeoComply.

Palansky concluded:

“Part of the goal of the campaign was to get operators to help push out the messaging to their social channels, and we had several operators cooperate and use their assets to push Bettor Safe messaging during the tournament. We felt very good about awareness overall, heard from several other US states and even other countries. The ‘Bettor Safe’ name and goals were well-received by industry stakeholders, which was a nice additional benefit.”

Americans like to gamble

The pre-campaign audience survey results came as a bit of a shock in terms of the public’s level of awareness. At the same time, though, they revealed something that CG and its partners knew already. Americans, like everyone, will gamble whether or not it’s legal to do so.

In March 2021, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) released research which arrived at a similar conclusion:

“Legal prohibitions or restrictions on gambling have minimal effect on gambling participation. Even in the two states that allow no legal gambling (Hawaii and Utah), more than half the adults report some gambling activity in the past year. One in five Americans placed a sports bet, despite it being legalized in only two states at the time of the survey, many of them online or through bookmakers. And 15% reported making an online wager.”

The Bettor Safe campaign acknowledges that Americans place bets with illegal online operators at the moment. Its ongoing work consists in large part of helping Americans realize that there are better options.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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