Massachusetts Looks to Crackdown on Underage Sports Betting

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Sportsbook brand ambassadors are hand-picked for their appeal. Sports betting advertising recommendations pending in Massachusetts would make sure they appeal to bettors of legal age.

That could determine not only the face of Massachusetts sportsbooks, but where — and how often — sports betting ads run in the Bay State. 

The proposed recommendations – presented to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) by its staff in a report back in June – were shared today during an MGC roundtable discussion on responsible gaming related to sports wagering.  

The strongest recommendations include the following: 

  • Prohibit anyone who is, or appears to be, under age 21 from appearing in sports betting ads
  • Prohibit sports betting ads from using “images or likeness, symbols, role models, and/or celebrity/entertainer endorsers whose primary appeal is to minder, themes or language designed to appeal specifically to those under the age of 21”
  • Prohibit sports betting ads at college sports venues or via digital media “where the majority of the viewers or participants are presumed to be under the age of 21” 
  • Prohibit sports betting ads on mobile apps, the internet, TV, radio, other electronic means, in print, or billboards unless “reliable and current” data shows that at least 85 percent of the audience is expected to be at least age 21

If approved by MGC in the coming weeks, the recommendations would beef up existing Massachusetts gaming regulations – now focused on casinos – that prohibit marketing and advertising aimed at persons under age 21 and persons on voluntary self-exclusion lists.

Underage Sports Betting A Wider Issue? 

Massachusetts seems eager to get ahead of underage gambling problems reportedly plaguing other states. 

A July 12 Stateline article published by the Pew Trusts reports that underage sports betting is on the rise in states where sportsbooks are now legal and operational. That list of states totals 33. Massachusetts – which legalized sports betting last month – will join the list once all sports betting regulations are in place. 

“Between 60% and 80% of high school students report having gambled for money in the past year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling,” the article says. “The group says the pandemic and easy access to online gambling have heightened risks for young adults.”

“The percentage of high school students with a gambling problem is double that of adults, research has found,” according to Stateline. “About 5% of all young people between 11 and 17 meet at least one of the criteria for a gambling problem, such as liking the rush felt when gambling, writing IOUs to stay in the game and wanting to win ‘the big one’ so much that they keep playing even when losing a great deal.”

That’s a real concern to Marlene Warner, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health. The mother of two teenage sports fans said during today’s roundtable that she is “concerned beyond belief” about the effect of sports betting advertising on children.

Warner said she is already seeing sports betting ads at Fenway Park, on the internet, and elsewhere — and sports betting isn’t even operational yet in the commonwealth. 

“I think we have to pay attention to the most vulnerable populations, youth being one of them,” she said. “I think the time for (MGC) to act upon this and think about bans or limitations on advertising is now, not until we have it all figured out.” 

Massachusetts Regulations In Flux

The recommendations, if adopted, could eventually be wrapped into sports betting regulations now being drafted for approval by the MGC. But official action could still be weeks away. 

Up to 225 regulations must be approved by the MGC before sportsbooks launch in the commonwealth. Each will likely be considered individually, allowing commissioners to decide if an emergency or permanent regulation is needed – although emergency regulations take effect more quickly. 

The MGC approved its first sports betting regulation last week on an emergency basis. That regulation will allow the MGC to certify companies that will laboratory test sports betting equipment, by Massachusetts state law. 

No launch date has been announced for Massachusetts sports betting. 

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Writer and Contributor
Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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