Conflicting National Broadcast Advertising Standards Could Impact MA Sports Betting Ads

Written By Chris Gerlacher on September 27, 2022 - Last Updated on August 24, 2023
Massachusetts Sports Betting Launch to Come After Week 4 of NFL Season

Massachusetts sports betting ad regulations prohibit sports betting ads that target users younger than 21. It’s part of the state’s effort to address problem gambling among young people. 

Adults are often the focus of problem gambling campaigns. However, a National Council on Problem Gambling report found that 4-5% of kids aged 12-17 “meet one or more criteria of having a gambling problem.” What may begin as a mundane activity can become a devastating addiction for these select few. That’s especially dangerous in states without youth problem gambling programs.   

“In Mississippi, I don’t believe there are any sustained youth gambling prevention programs,” Executive Director of the National Council of Problem Gambling, Keith Whyte, said. “So I don’t know that there’s any Mississippi that regularly are getting any messages around any gambling prevention messages.”

Regulators targeting a long neglected area of gambling addiction in Massachusetts seems admirable. But it’s a small step that doesn’t create a robust regulatory scheme alone. 

Massachusetts Sports Betting Ad Regulations 

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) writes sports betting regulations. However, the Massachusetts sports betting bill listed some criteria the Gaming Commission must include in its sports betting rules. This is a step that some sports betting bills take to erect guardrails in their sports betting industries. 

At a glance, Massachusetts’ focus on young people in one of its early sports betting provisions seems progressive. Veering sports betting advertisements toward adults old enough to make their own decisions is a small improvement in regulating gambling advertising. 

However, this single advertising clause pales compared with some European provisions. In the United Kingdom, gambling advertisements cannot feature celebrities, because they may appeal to young people. No one who “is or seems to be” 25 or under can appeal in a gambling ad, either. 

The gap between a state like Massachusetts and a market like the United Kingdom shows how far the United States has to go in regulating gambling ads. But it’s not any one state’s fault. State-by-state regulation of sports betting has made it impossible to apply any state’s standards to national sports broadcasts.  

Related news: Massachusetts To Be Strict On Underage Sports Gambling

National Broadcasts And State Commercial Conflicts     

American sports betting markets have adopted pieces of rigorous sports betting ad regulation one at a time. Ohio has banned sportsbooks from calling bonuses “risk-free” if bettors have to risk money to redeem them. Virtually every state prohibits false, deceptive, or misleading sportsbook advertisements. (Although, that clause has not stopped risk-free bets that require risk from being nationally advertised.)  

Sports betting commercials in national sports broadcasts may not conform to every state’s ad regulations. For example, FanDuel changed its “risk-free bet” to a “no sweat first bet” after Ohio’s restrictions on sports betting ad language. However, one of its commercials during NFL broadcasts advertises $1,000 back in free bets in exchange for a qualifying real-money wager. FanDuel won’t be able to call its welcome bonus a risk-free bet in Ohio, but its nationally broadcast commercial can end by combining its no sweat first bet with free bet language.  

These conflicting advertising standards could invite federal scrutiny into sports betting ads. A federal advertising framework could offer clear rules on permissible bonus language, celebrity usage, and audience breakdown. So, they would eliminate the conflict between lower standards for national ads and higher standards for state ads.

Massachusetts’ explicit stance on avoiding targeting people under 21 is a small part of this larger conflict. While local advertisements can tailor themselves to meet these conditions, ads during national sports broadcasts may fall short of state requirements. While Massachusetts is unlikely to push the issue over the edge, it’s a step toward inevitable interest from federal regulators.  

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Chris Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a lead writer for PlayMA. He is a versatile, experienced writer with a portfolio that ranges from political and legislative pieces to sports and sports betting. Gerlacher is a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, CO.

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