Massachusetts online sports betting is up and running as of March 10, and with its launch has come regulation concerns surrounding the advertising practices of some of the industry’s biggest players. To ensure the longevity of sports betting in Massachusetts, further work must be done to establish safeguards.
State regulators and the MA attorney general discussed the need for tighter sportsbook advertising regulations during a meeting last week.
Six online sportsbooks went live last Friday, joining the three retail sportsbooks already operating in Massachusetts. Four other sportsbook apps have also received initial clearance, with the earliest of those launches coming as soon as April.
Sports fans can now access sports betting directly from their mobile devices from anywhere in Massachusetts. The only caveat is that they must be 21 or older in order to legally wager.
That’s where things start to get tricky. Younger sports fans might not be able to legally wager, but they’re still being introduced to sports betting via the mainstream media.
The office of Attorney General Andrea Campbell raised this issue during last Thursday’s MA Gaming Commission meeting. Massachusetts youth, the office argued, is at risk of being “unduly exposed to potentially addicting products” thanks to the onslaught of sportsbook marketing and promotion currently circulating.
In the not-so-distant future, this could very well equate to college-age sports fans getting involved in wagering at a much faster rate.
First Assistant Attorney General Patrick Moore said:
“Let’s consider how one of those promotions may operate as soon as tomorrow. Take, for example, a dorm of upperclassmen at one of Massachusetts’ many colleges and universities. Inundated with advertising, one student realizes a referral bonus available. Within hours, a dorm full of students has downloaded the apps, one benefiting from referring another. Now the weekend’s activity is sports betting, brought to you by referral bonuses, with potentially habitual use thereafter. Is this the safe and responsible gambling that we intend to foster?”
After hearing the presentation, regulators said they are open to amending regulations based on concerns.
Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said:
“I’m hearing each one of you indicate to us there are ways that we can make our regs better. And when we hear that, we are all ears.”
Judd-Stein requested the AG office provide the commission with proposed language that they can use when writing these final sportsbook advertising regulations, which are currently being assessed via a promulgation process that ends March 23.
As opposed to other states where the AG has taken a more hands-off approach to gambling issues, Campbell’s office intends to have a firm say on the matter.
Teenagers being exposed to more sportsbook advertising
When discussing the most beneficial regulatory adjustments to be made, Moore noted one particular point of concern. Sportsbook advertising is all over social media and TV streaming platforms, which can direct ads at viewers younger than the legal betting age. In many cases, platforms are able to exclude viewers that are under a certain age from an advertiser’s audience.
“Where that capability exists, the operators should be required to use it.”
“I watch the Celtics every night, I watch with my 10-year-old on connected TV. He’s getting the message that to enjoy the Celtics game, he’s got to bet on it. That’s not the message that we should be leaving 10-year-olds in the commonwealth.”
Three FanDuel ads violate MA regulations
The AG’s concerns weren’t the only advertising crackdowns discussed during the meeting.
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien recently flagged three FanDuel ads for regulation violations. One ad noted the ability to use credit cards and prepaid cards for betting and another mentioned online casino gambling – both of which are illegal in Massachusetts. The third FanDuel ad said that bettors could receive “free bets”, a term that is prohibited by regulations.
O’Brien said she came across these ads while watching Hulu and cable TV.
Upon notification of the issue, FanDuel was immediately responsive, taking down the three ads in question. Regardless, O’Brien remained less than satisfied, saying that such violations should have been self-reported by FanDuel rather than discovered by a commissioner.
She went on to request:
“I want this brought up in front of us for some sort of action. To me, right out of the gates to have ‘free bets,’ iGaming, and implying you could use a credit or prepaid card, to me you have myriad of violations all happening right before launch.”
Although this was likely a simple mistake, FanDuel’s ads were misleading, nonetheless.
Sen. John Keenan filed bill S.182 earlier this year to outlaw “deceptive” sportsbook advertising related to bonuses, boosts, free bets or any similar terminology.