A Closer Look At Why MA Sportsbooks Can’t Use ‘Risk-Free’ Terminology

Written By Adam Hensley on August 25, 2023
A look at why risk-free promotional language isn't allowed in Massachusetts, from playma.com

Sports betting platforms in Massachusetts cannot use the phrase “risk-free” in any of their sportsbook advertisements.

To eradicate any sort of ambiguity, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission prohibits sportsbook promotional language that is “misleading.”

Online sports betting in Massachusetts launched on March 10, and eight sportsbooks are now live. All of them must refrain from using “risk-free” terminology.

Here’s why.

Why ‘risk-free’ terminology isn’t allowed

There is always risk involved in sports betting or any form of gambling.

Many of the “risk-free” promotions require users to create their accounts, and then deposit and wager a certain amount of money. From there, if their first bet loses, the sportsbook would credit their account with “bonus bets” equal to the original stake, up to a certain amount.

Those bonus bets can’t be withdrawn as cash, as they’re only good to use on another bet within the sportsbook. So if you lost $50 on your first wager but had $50 in bonus bets, you can’t move those funds to your bank account. You have to use them within the sportsbook, and they expire after a certain time period.

In other words, there is nothing free about a “risk-free” bet. Risk is in fact involved, and a customer must spend their own money before receiving any sort of bonus.

The MGC has kept a cemented stance on responsible gambling in MA, and the limitations on this language contributes to that effort. It’s one of the reasons Massachusetts is an industry leader when it comes to the topic.

No ‘risk-free’ language in promos

If you log into any of the eight sportsbooks available in the Commonwealth, you won’t see any sort of Massachusetts sportsbook promos offering a “risk-free” first bet. You won’t see any media advertisements offering the same, either.

Massachusetts gaming law prohibits any sort of wagering promotional language that “implies or promotes sports wagering as free of risk in general or in connection with a particular promotion or sports wagering offer.”

Furthermore, promo language cannot “describe sports wagering as ‘free,’ ‘cost-free’ or ‘free of risk’ if the player needs to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the wager.”

It doesn’t matter if that promotion is via television, social media, radio or any other medium. The bottom line is that the term “risk-free” is strictly outlawed when it comes to sportsbook advertisements.

Other states have similar policies

Much like Massachusetts, both Ohio and Pennsylvania don’t allow sportsbook operators to include phrases like “risk-free” in their promotions. Same with Kentucky.

When Ohio launched sports betting in January, several platforms included “risk-free” or “free bet” language in some of their advertisements. In turn, the Ohio Casino Control reached out to the operators explaining they violated Ohio law.

A number of operators have adjusted their promotional language to fit Massachusetts guidelines. FanDuel Massachusetts is one example, as it pivoted from using “risk-free bet” to “No Sweat First Bet.” The promotion itself is the same, but the advertisement needed to change.

In the instances of operators offering “free bets” as insurance if a first wager fails, those rewards turned into “bonus bets.”

Barstool’s violation in MA

It’s not just the term “risk-free” that became outlawed in Massachusetts.

Earlier this year, Barstool Sportsbook Massachusetts and its former parent company PENN Entertainment came under fire for offering a promotion titled the “Can’t Lose Parlay.” The “CLP,” as it’s often referred to, was a brainchild of Daniel “Big Cat” Katz, a Barstool personality.

Katz has been adamant that his gambling record isn’t admirable, and coined the “can’t lose” phrase as a joke. But not everyone who bets on sports in Massachusetts follows Barstool Sports closely or knows that it is satire.

The MGC found that the Barstool advertisement 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 other words, there is no room for gray area in sportsbook advertisements. Massachusetts wants its operators to make customers are fully aware of the risks involved in sports betting before placing their wagers.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
Adam Hensley Avatar
Written by
Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

View all posts by Adam Hensley
Privacy Policy