Massachusetts Takes Time to Get Regulation Right on Underage Sports Betting

Massachusetts plowed through dozens of sports betting regulations today in preparation for a January retail launch. But it put on the brakes when it came to deciding how to prevent underage betting on sports. 

Two of the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission asked that the commission come back at its Nov. 16 meeting to consider how best to prevent sports betting by anyone under age 21. After some back-and-forth on whether the vote should come today or next week, the commission decided to hold off. 

The delay was requested by MGC Commissioner Eileen O’Brien, who flagged concerns about how racetracks will separate bettors under age 21 from bettors over age 21. Massachusetts allows horse race betting starting at age 18. However, only individuals age 21 and above will be allowed to wager legally on sports in the commonwealth. 

O’Brien said the MGC must confirm “in biometric ways” that people under age 21 cannot place a sports bet. 

“That demographic is right in the heart of who is most vulnerable,” said O’Brien. “So this is a big red flag for me. 

“Where are we going to draw the line, and how hard is that line going to be?”

MGC staff said waiting a week shouldn’t affect the Bay State’s sports betting launch timeline. Massachusetts plans to launch retail sports betting at casinos and tracks in late January. Online sports betting is expected to launch in early March.

More Vetting To Prevent Underage Betting

Surveillance cameras, security checkpoints, and even requiring that sports bets be taken by cashiers were floated today by commissioners as potential ways to protect minors and underage youth from illegally betting on sports at retail facilities. 

Massachusetts has security checkpoints in place to keep underage individuals off casino gaming floors, MGC Executive Director Karen Wells told the commission today. Security protocols are also in place to keep anyone under the age of 18 from pari-mutuel horse betting. 

Upon request today, MGC staffer David Mackey edited a proposed underage betting regulation to specify no one under 21 would be allowed to “enter a sports wagering area, a sports wagering facility, or place a bet on a sports wagering kiosk.”  A vote on that edit seemed agreeable to some commissioners, but not all.

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Massachusetts gaming officials are mulling ways to prevent underage sports betting (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)

O’Brien, backed by Commissioner Nakisha Skinner, said she wants feedback from tracks and simulcast facilities before pushing the regulation through. O’Brien emphasized she wants assurance that tracks specifically can keep sports betting kiosks away from those under 21 – one way or another.  

“So either bar it, and say it can’t be in there at all, or we come with language that says you have to wall it off,” she told the commission. “I don’t know what level of detail is minimally acceptable there.” 

Commissioners Eager To Move Forward

Commissioner Jordan Maynard seemed eager to proceed with a vote on the regulation today, voicing concerns with illegal sports betting across the board.

“I agree that there’s a safety risk here. There’s also a public safety risk when I get a call at 12 o’clock at night from my best friend that everyone around him at TD Garden is using some sort of app to do an over-under on the C’s game,” Maynard said. 

MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein – who has expressed concern with the pace of the commission’s approval of sports betting regulations at recent meetings – said she recognized O’Brien’s concerns. Judd-Stein said surveillance cameras to ensure IDs are checked might be one solution.

She also sounded optimistic and seemed eager today to move forward.

“I have heard from other jurisdictions that monitoring kiosks is a real challenge,” said Judd-Stein. “It’s troubling that tech isn’t better. But I bet it will get better and better.” 

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer 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, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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