Massachusetts sports betting regulators brace for publicity downpour

Legal sports betting is expected to begin in Massachusetts in casinos in late January and on the Internet in early March. When it does, the state’s top gambling regulator worries residents will be hit with a deluge of ads.

Last Updated: November 15, 2022 5:02 PM ET
Reading time: 3 minutes

Massachusetts Sports Betting Regulators fear the Commonwealth will be overwhelmed by a wave of publicity when legal betting goes live in the state early next year.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) met Monday with representatives from the American Gaming Association, New England Sports Network (NESN), and Major League Baseball, among others, for a virtual roundtable regarding retail advertising and online sports betting sites.

Legal sports betting should begin in Massachusetts in casinos at the end of January and on the Internet at the beginning of March. When it does, however, the state’s top gaming regulator fears residents will be hit with a deluge of ads.

“I’m really scared we’ll be inundated once we set up sports betting in a way that Massachusetts may not be prepared,” MGC President Cathy Judd-Stein said. at Monday’s meeting. “We’ve seen some of that in the cannabis industry. I suspect sports betting might even be more intense.

You might have a point there

The president’s concerns may not be unfounded, as the launch of sports betting in a state may trigger a publicity rush by newly legal operators looking to sign up customers. Massachusetts should also be an attractive market for bookmakers, given its large population and reputation for rabid sports fans.

The onslaught of publicity during last year’s football season was such that some in the industry feared a crackdown similar to what the everyday fantasy industry endured after its publicity mania some seven years ago. However, the industry seems to have calmed down a bit, sometimes due to financial constraints, and the sports leagues themselves have tried to keep sports betting advertising to a respectful minimum.

For example, Marquest Meeks, vice president and assistant general counsel for Major League Baseball, told the commission that the league only allows a total of 10 sports betting ads throughout a broadcast, of which no more than six during the match itself. The league also has a limit of one 30-second spot per ad break, although it will allow two additional 30-second spots if they relate to responsible gambling.

But MLB is also trying to find a “balance.” This balance is to stimulate fan interest, avoid annoying people who have no interest in sports betting, and allow operators to try to drive customers away from illegal books that do not cooperate with the leagues. or regulators.

“And so we tried again to strike that balance to make sure that these entities and businesses have as many opportunities to drive customers away from this illegal market,” Meeks said.

Know your audience

The bill that Massachusetts lawmakers finally passed this summer requires the gaming commission to enact rules prohibiting several forms of advertising, including misleading promotions and unsolicited contextual advertisements via the Internet or text messages that are directed at persons who self-exclude from the game. Also prohibited is advertising directed at persons under the age of 21, which appears on public signage and which does not comply with federal, state or local laws.

While the State Senate proposed a “whistle to whistle” ban on any advertising during the live broadcast of games, this provision of the bill was removed from the version that became law. Instead, Massachusetts sports betting law only prohibits advertising that disrupts people’s viewing experience at a sporting event, not those who merely watch it on television.

Massachusetts regulators are still working out all the rules for legal sports betting in the state, such as advertising. Nevertheless, the industry and its partners are trying to be proactive and move forward.

“It’s a lesson learned years ago, from oversaturation,” NESN President and CEO Sean McGrail said at Monday’s meeting. “And frankly, we’ve seen it in other categories as well. We’ve seen it in the airline industry, where some airlines would like to buy back inventory…and it’s become a distraction. So we’re very aware of our audience and we spend a lot of time thinking about the impact on audiences and exactly how that affects delivery, our overall performance and our brands.

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