Massachusetts Attorney General Announces Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition

Written By Mike Breen on April 1, 2024
Massachusetts Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has announced a new education initiative aimed at curtailing underage youth sports betting in the Commonwealth. 

Attorney General Andrea Campbell led a March 28 press conference at TD Garden to introduce the initiative. It includes the formation of the new Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition, a group of public officials, sports teams and regulators who will shape a training and safety educational curriculum designed to teach young people about the nature and perils of sports betting.

Massachusetts announces Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition

Massachusetts sports betting launched early last year, with online sportsbooks going live last March. Bettors must be 21 or older to wager on sports in the Commonwealth. 

At the press conference last Thursday, Campbell said that because mobile sports betting legalization has increased accessibility so vastly, youth are now in danger. He reasoned:

“Sports gaming is everywhere. It is accessible, and because it is so accessible, it poses a serious public health risk, particularly for young people. We’re putting an addictive problem, gambling, on an already addictive device, our smartphone. We need to make sure that (sports betting) does not ensnare young people into a cycle of problem gambling, law breaking or addiction.”

As a result, a number of organizations have come together in an effort to address the issue. Members of the Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition include the:

  • Massachusetts Gaming Commission
  • Massachusetts Attorney General’s office
  • Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health
  • Civic Action Project
  • NCAA
  • Boston Bruins
  • Boston Celtics
  • New England Patriots
  • New England Revolution
  • Boston Red Sox

Coalition to help develop educational curriculum & raise awareness

The coalition will develop and implement an educational curriculum geared toward middle school, high school and college students from the ages of 12 to 20.

Marlene Warner, CEO of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, said that along with the curriculum, the coalition would also help develop online apps and public campaigns to raise awareness about the risks of youth gambling addiction and “why the math is not in (young people’s) favor.” She said they are counting on sporting leagues and professional athletes in the state to help promote “it being cool to wait to gamble.”

Citing data that found that 58% of 18- to 22-year-olds and 50% of middle schoolers have engaged in some form of sports betting, Campbell said:

“Addiction is a life-long disease, and by reaching people at an early age and teaching these skills early on, we’re confident that our goal to reduce the likelihood that young people will experience addiction will work.”

Along with developing age-appropriate curricula, the coalition also plans to lead by example when discussing sports gaming in public.

Campbell said:

“Our goal is to equip young people with information about the laws, risk and the public health harms associated with sports betting, as it increasingly permeates our sports culture. And to make sure that when all of us in the coalition are communicating about gambling in spaces watched or listened to by young people, that we’re following best practices.”

MGC to lend staff, research to Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition

At the MGC’s March 26 meeting, chair Jordan Maynard said he, commissioner Brad Hill and MGC director of research and responsible gaming Mark Vander Linden first met with fellow coalition members in November of last year. They’ve met several times since.

Maynard said the AG’s office wanted MGC involvement, as it’s the regulatory authority over the legal Massachusetts sports betting market. He said the coalition will use some of the commission’s staff, as well as data from MGC research.

“The commission has been clear that it will take all measures to ensure that a patron be 21 years old or older to engage in sports wagering in the Commonwealth. Responsible gaming is key to our mission and we want to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected and educated.”

At the press conference, Hill said there’s an urgency to educate Massachusetts youth on sports betting. Part of this comes from the fact that some underage residents can already travel a short distance across state borders and legally engage in sports betting. Hill said:

“I happen to live literally 20 minutes from Seabrook, New Hampshire, where any 18-year-old can go up and place a bet on a sporting event. Which means, as I as a commissioner and my fellow commissioners have come to understand, that we need to capture the young people who are learning about gambling, not only at the high school level, but the middle school level.”  

Concerns over the influence of sportsbook advertising on youth

Some gambling addiction and treatment experts have expressed concerns that the prevalence of sports betting advertising attracts young people. 

In the wake of Thursday’s educational initiative announcement, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Stop Predatory Gambling, Les Bernal, told The Boston Globe that there needs to be more focus on sports gaming advertisements.

Bernal said:

“If the state Attorney General is serious about addressing the major harm being inflicted upon young people in Massachusetts, it starts with restricting gambling advertising and marketing to protect young people, just like we do for other known dangerous and addictive products. Marlboro doesn’t advertise on the Green Monster or behind home plate at Fenway Park like gambling interests do.”

Massachusetts has extensive regulations concerning sports betting advertising, including rules designed to protect youth. All advertising and promotional materials have to state that users must be 21 or older to participate in sports wagering. Advertisements also must not contain “images, symbols, celebrity or entertainer endorsements, or language” that would appeal to those primarily under 21.  Sports betting advertising is also not permitted on college campuses or in media and at events where a large portion of the audience might be underage. 

Still, in a March 29 press release from the AG’s office, Marlene Warner of the Council on Gaming and Health said the sheer amount of advertising is part of the reason why gambling education for young people is needed.

Warner concluded:

“Sports betting and related advertisements have inundated our sports venues, broadcasts, and products, and kids are watching and consuming the whole time. We need to provide a counterbalance to these adult messages through strong and enticing educational materials and programs. I applaud this Coalition for the initiation of this health-focused effort.” 

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd / PlayMA
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen is an Ohio-based professional writer who has more than two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture. He has covered online sports betting, responsible gambling, and other gambling initiatives for a variety of markets over the last couple of years. That now includes PlayMA.

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