While the Massachusetts sports betting industry is still relatively young, one industry expert believes the state could act as an example for others entering the playing field — particularly when it comes to responsible gaming.
Mark Hichar, a shareholder at the Greenberg Traurig law firm, is an advisor when it comes to casinos, gaming system providers, operators and investors in gaming. He is also based in Boston.
Given his expertise and location, he’s paid close attention to the legalization and launch of sports betting in Massachusetts.
PlayMA spoke with Hichar about why he believes Massachusetts could be a model for responsible gaming for other states going forward.
Here are his thoughts.
Massachusetts’ focus on responsible gaming
So far, Hichar has been impressed with the dedicated focus that Massachusetts has put on responsible gambling.
“I think Massachusetts is a leader in responsible gaming,” Hichar said. ” … I think this is something that is becoming more and more focused and will continue to be a focus of gambling regulators in the US, but I do believe Massachusetts is among the leaders in this area.”
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Some issues have needed correcting, and Massachusetts has been sure to clear things up.
More specifically, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has dealt with several issues related to sportsbook advertising.
MGC corrects advertising language
There have been some gray areas regarding the specific language that sportsbook advertisements can use, most notably when advertising promotions. For instance, Barstool Massachusetts came under fire for branding one of its promos as a “Can’t Lose Parlay.”
Earlier this year, the MGC had a hearing to discuss the use of this language. In the end, the Investigations Enforcement Bureau ruled that Barstool’s promo violated rules “which prohibits not only unfair or deceptive branding, marketing, advertising, but also those that would reasonably expected to confuse or mislead patrons in order to induce them to engage in sports wagering.”
In addition to Barstool, other notable brands, such as FanDuel Massachusetts, found themselves in hot water regarding phrases such as “risk-free” with their promos.
Point being, there can be no gray area when it comes to responsible gaming advertisements. There will always be risks involved with placing a wager. There is no such thing as any bet being 100% “risk-free.”
Sportsbook advertising in MA
Correcting this language is critical, especially when sportsbook advertising is so prominent in the Commonwealth. In fact, Hichar shared that his biggest takeaway since Massachusetts launched online sports betting back in March is advertising.
“There is a significant demand and one of the things that you can’t help but notice is the plethora of advertising that comes with going live in sports betting,” he said. “I think that was not unexpected, but still, if you watch sports events at all, you can’t help but notice that sports betting is front and center.”
According to him, advertising will continue to be a hot topic worth monitoring.
Massachusetts an example for other states
Kentucky is set to be the next state to launch its own sports betting industry. The Bluegrass State is slated to launch sports betting on Sept. 7. It’s among the fastest turnarounds from legalization to launch in US history, sitting at six months.
That quick turnaround presents its own set of challenges. But within the past few weeks, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission passed emergency and ordinary regulations.
Kentucky seems to have taken a page out of Massachusetts’ book regarding its approach the promotional language that will be permitted.
“I do note, though, that Kentucky has in its advertising regulations a specific provision related to misleading advertising, so as to address the risk presented by overly flowery advertisements,” Hichar said.
In that sense, it seems that Massachusetts is already paving the way for other states in regard to responsible gaming messaging.