Legal Vs. Illegal Gambling Websites: Confusion Abounds In PA, ‘Bettor Safe’ Program Seeks To Help

According to a new survey, more than 75% of Pennsylvanians polled struggle to differentiate between state-authorized and unauthorized sites.
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In Pennsylvania, one of the leading states for legal, regulated mobile sports betting, many residents admit they have struggled to differentiate legal options from illegal.

According to a survey released today by Conscious Gaming — an independent non-profit created by geolocation tech company GeoComply — more than 75% of Pennsylvanians polled responded that they can’t tell the difference, or aren’t sure if they can tell the difference, between state-authorized and unauthorized sites.

More specifically, 47.9% said they can’t tell the difference, and another 28.4% expressed uncertainty about whether they would be able to tell the difference — vs. 23.7% who believe they know the difference.

It is results like this that have led Conscious Gaming to launch the “Bettor Safe” program, a national campaign designed to educate consumers about the risks of betting on illegal websites as well as the benefits of regulated gaming options.

Two state-specific initiatives — bettorsafe.org/pa and a counterpart in New Jersey with an “nj” in the URL in place of the “pa” — are part of the campaign, with other state sites soon to follow.

Advertisements, videos, and state-specific resources are all part of an effort to raise consumer awareness of the issue.

“This campaign comes at a pivotal moment when American sports fans are gearing up for the NCAA basketball tournament amid a pandemic that continues to push individuals online,” said Conscious Gaming VP of Corporate Social Responsibility & Communications Seth Palansky. “Now more than ever, we must educate consumers and equip them with the tools to make more informed decisions about online betting.”

More surveys results from PA

The survey also found that, when asked if online betting was permitted in their state, 30.9% admitted they did not know — while another 2.5% incorrectly asserted “no.”

One interesting question was “How long have you been gambling online in Pennsylvania?” for those who had answered that they had done so. The state launched online betting in 2019, and 77.8% of those who participate said they had begun doing so in the past year or two years (those two options were about evenly split). But another 22.2% said “more than two years” — and thus not on regulated sites.

In fact, of those who have gambled online — in this case, sports betting, online casino, or poker — 38.9% admitted they have done so on an illegal site while another 9.9% said they weren’t sure.

But now that a legal option is available, 45.3% said they have abandoned betting on illegal sites entirely. Nearly one-third of respondents said they now bet more frequently, while only 4.3% said that they bet legally but not online.

While consumer protection is touted as a key element to online betting legalization, only 8% chose that as their primary motivation for using the regulated sites, as compared to 42.6% picking “safety and security” and 35.8% selecting “fair odds.”

As for March Madness — which begins on March 18 — 40.4% of bettors say they will place bets online and another 35.4% said that they might.

Bettor Safe gets key backing

“Educating Pennsylvanians about the security and safety advantages of legal online betting is critical,” Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O’Toole said in a statement.

“Approved operators in Pennsylvania have been vetted and they meet high regulatory standards, which permits consumers to wager on legal sites with the confidence that their funds and identity are secure and that regulated websites will be responsible and accountable. The Bettor Safe campaign is an important resource to empower consumers to identify and use these regulated sites in Pennsylvania.”

Bettor Safe also has the support of the American Gaming Association, whose spokesman said the campaign “will address misinformation by providing easy-to-find, consumer-facing resources about legal online betting, with the Bettor Safe website serving as an educational hub.”

The North American Gaming Regulators Association also has endorsed the Bettor Safe model.

“The regulator community sees, firsthand, the risks that illegal gambling present to consumers and state governments,” the group said in a statement. “We cannot cede the established rules and safeguards of regulated internet gaming to offshore websites that have zero accountability.”

In September, Conscious Gaming launched PlayPause, a new responsible gaming and sports integrity tool to help the gaming industry manage self-exclusion and impermissible bettor programs.

The fine print

Conscious Gaming conducted the online survey on behalf of the Bettor Safe Campaign from Feb. 24-26, 2021, among a sample of 1,078 adults in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This was a census-balanced sample of adults based on age, gender, and region.

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