Massachusetts Sports Betting Regulators brace for promotional downpour

Legal sports betting is expected to begin in casinos in Massachusetts in late January and online in early March. If that’s the case, the state’s top gaming regulator fears residents will be hit with a barrage of ads.

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

Sports betting regulators in Massachusetts fear the Commonwealth will be swamped by a publicity spree when legal betting is introduced in the state early next year.

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

Legal sports betting is expected to begin in casinos in Massachusetts in late January and online in early March. If that’s the case, however, the state’s top gaming regulator fears residents will be hit with a barrage of ads.

“I’m really scared that if we set up sports betting in a way that Massachusetts may not be prepared, we’ll be swamped,” MGC Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said during Monday’s meeting. β€œWe’ve seen some of that in the cannabis industry. I suspect sports betting could be even more intense.”

You might have a point there

The Chairman’s concerns may not be unfounded, as the introduction of sports betting in a state could trigger a promotional rush from newly licensed operators looking to woo customers. Massachusetts is also expected to be an attractive market for bookmakers due to its sizable population and reputation for rabid sports fans.

Such was the advertising onslaught during last year’s football season that some in the industry feared a crackdown similar to the daily fantasy industry endured after its advertising spree some seven years ago. However, the industry appears to have slowed down somewhat, sometimes due to financial constraints, and the sports leagues themselves have attempted to keep sports betting advertising to a respectful minimum.

For example, Marquest Meeks, vice president and assistant general counsel at Major League Baseball, told the commission that the league only allows a total of 10 sports betting ads during a broadcast, with no more than six during the game itself. The league also has a limit of only one 30-second spot per commercial break, although it allows two additional 30-second spots when it comes to responsible gaming.

But the MLB is also trying to find a “balance”. This balance is to increase fan interest, avoid people not interested in sports betting, and allow operators to siphon customers away from illegal books that don’t work with leagues or regulators.

“And so again we tried to find that balance to make sure that these entities and companies have as many opportunities to lure customers away from this illicit market,” Meeks said.

Know your listeners

The law, which the Massachusetts state legislature finally passed this summer, requires the Gambling Commission to enact rules banning various forms of advertising, including deceptive promotions and unsolicited pop-up advertisements over the Internet or text messages aimed at individuals who exclude themselves from gambling. Also prohibited is advertising directed to persons under the age of 21 that appears on public signage and violates federal, state, or local law.

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

Massachusetts regulators are still working on all of the state’s legal sports betting rules, such as advertising. Still, the industry and its partners are trying to be proactive and upfront.

“It’s a lesson of oversaturation that we learned years ago,” NESN President and CEO Sean McGrail said during Monday’s meeting. β€œAnd honestly, we’ve seen it in other categories too. We’ve seen it in the airline industry, where certain airlines would love to buy up inventory… and it became a distraction. So we’re very conscious of our audience and we spend a lot of time thinking about the impact that is having on the audience and how exactly that is impacting the show and our overall performance and our brands.”

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