Starting Aug. 1, 2023, Massachusetts bettors will no longer be able to claim referral bonuses at online sportsbooks.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted Thursday to phase out an exemption waiver that allowed sports betting operators to acquire new customers through referral programs. That exemption will end Aug. 1. However, only already existing referral promos can be claimed. Sportsbooks are barred from offering any new “refer-a-friend” promotions.
Twice previously, the MGC granted a waiver to permit sportsbooks to provide marketing promotions like “refer-a-friend” to existing customers despite regulations that forbid those kinds of Massachusetts sportsbook promos.
But effectively immediately, no “refer-a-friend” promotions may be extended to new customers. Once existing customers exhaust their referral program benefits, the programs will cease.
Were referral offers ever technically allowed in MA?
For expediency of the March 10 launch of MA online sports betting, sportsbooks were allowed to offer referral promotional offers through the first 90 days of the market. Many of the operators requested a waiver from the regulation that prohibits such offers, because the “refer-a-friend” promos are tightly built into their betting platforms, and such programs help build a customer base. Only PENN Entertainment, which operates Barstool, did not ask for a waiver.
In Thursday’s public meeting, MGC voted unanimously 5-0 to require sports betting operators to cease all referral program promotions to new users and to eliminate “refer-a-friend” promos altogether by Aug. 1.
Commissioner Nakisha Skinner indicated she would like to see the MGC revisit regulations regarding advertising and promotions.
“I support this waiver, and I think we should look at these regs soon so we can come to an agreement on how we proceed for these operators,” Skinner said.
Purpose of refer-a-friend offers
Sportsbooks often provide a promotion to existing customers to give out benefits should they refer a friend. In some cases it can be a $25 bonus bet for each friend that signs up. Massachusetts law did not allow such a program, but for the first 90 days of the online betting market, sportsbooks like DraftKings and FanDuel and their competitors, were able to use such promos. In most cases, a refer a friend promo does not require a promo code.
Massachusetts is proving to be cautious with extending marketing opportunities for sportsbooks. The regulations in the state are among the most stringent in the US. The MGC has debated banning all affiliate programs, and also discussed requiring “21 and Over” on any advertisement for a sportsbook or betting app, in real-world or online.