Massachusetts Gaming Commission To Scrutinize Sportsbooks Marketing To Big Bettors

Written By Cole Rush on April 2, 2024
Massachusetts Sportsbooks Problem Gambling

The Massachusettes Gaming Commission wants to investigate sportsbook practices in depth. Following discussions last week, the Commission is planning a public meeting and a later session focusing on state sports betting operators. The goal? To determine whether Massachusetts needs to adjust its regulations about wagering limits and customer marketing. 

Concerns about sportsbooks targeting problem gamblers have arisen, causing Massachusetts sports betting regulators to question whether current state laws properly protect players.

Massachusetts sportsbooks under scrutiny for targeting big spenders

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal is a significant contributor to Massachusetts’ efforts to promote responsible play. He issued a letter to eight sports betting operators on March 19, urging them to stop using data to target problem gamblers. At an event earlier that week, Blumenthal said:

“Sports betting companies are exploiting, targeting, and taking advantage of vulnerable problem gamblers, especially during these coming weeks. How? They are enticing those problem gamblers to do more. They are enticing problem gamblers by targeting them based on the data they collect in real time about who is betting how much and where, and they are collecting that data and then targeting the most vulnerable problem gamblers to do more, leading them down dark paths to addiction. And the reason very simply is that they want to make more money.”

Blumenthal also noted federal funding is dedicated to stopping other addictions, such as alcohol and tobacco, but that no such funding exists for gambling addiction. He hopes to change that with the GRIT Act, a federal bill that would reallocate half of all revenue from the existing federal sports betting excise tax to gambling addiction treatment and research.

In his recent letter to sportsbooks, Blumenthal said:

“I urge you to leverage the data you collect to identify problem gamblers and proactively provide these individuals with services, such as a confidential advisor, to help them access treatment. You should also quickly and frequently direct potential problem gamblers to transparent and easily accessible information on self-exclusion so they can remove themselves from your platform. Further, I demand you end any promotions or marketing practices that encourage ‘high-value’ gamblers to continue spending money through exploitative bonuses, credits, and enticements. Instead, you should divert the resources spent on these problematic practices to programs dedicated to treating individuals with gambling addiction.”

Sportsbooks using VIP hosts & bonus credits to encourage more deposits

Sportsbooks are actively encouraging losing players to continue betting through the use of various incentives and outreach tactics. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner posed the question of whether or not those same marketing practices would exist if a customer suddenly began winning.

Skinner commented:

“For me, this is about fundamental fairness and transparency to the consumer, to patrons, where you have a situation where a patron is losing and being encouraged through outreach, by an operator’s VIP staff, and incentives. What’s the balance when that same patron begins to win?”

In fact, as the Wall Street Journal highlighted last week, many sportsbook operators are currently under federal scrutiny for targeting big-spending customers through such methods. So-called sportsbook VIP hosts form close relationships with these players, gifting them with frequent bonus bets and credits to encourage additional deposits from bettors. Instead, Blumenthal and other legislators argued, sportsbooks should provide these customers with responsible gambling checks and gambling addiction resources.

Blumenthal said:

“The bonuses and credits, the promotions and pitches, the VIP hosts. It has to be seen as a whole, and there may be aspects of it that should be prohibited or much more rigorously restricted.”

Sportsbooks in Massachusetts & beyond join forces to combat problem gambling

In response to this recent scrutiny, seven of the nation’s biggest sports betting and online gambling operators announced the Responsible Online Gambling Association on March 27. Helmed by Dr. Jennifer Shatley as Executive Director, the organization will drive efforts to limit problem gambling through research, education initiatives, awareness campaigns, and a certification program.

Members of the organization include:

  • BetMGM
  • bet365
  • DraftKings
  • Fanatics
  • FanDuel
  • Hard Rock
  • PENN (ESPN Bet)

While this is just a small portion of the many available US sportsbooks, this is a sure step in the right direction. With major operators like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM on board, this association can lead the charge for positive change in the sports betting industry.

Photo by Dreamstime / PlayMA
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