Rules For Massachusetts Sports Betting Ads And “Risk-Free” Language

Written By Chris Gerlacher on November 18, 2022
Massachusetts sports betting

Massachusetts is gearing up for the launch of MA sports betting. Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) convened a roundtable to discuss potential rules for sports betting ads when the industry launches. 

Among other topics, participants discussed the number of ads that can be shown back to back. Regulators don’t want a commercial break to have three to four sportsbook welcome bonus ads flashing in viewers’ faces. They’re aware of the deluge of sports betting ads in other markets and want to avoid the same irritation that other viewers have with excessive gambling ads.    

Prohibiting “Misleading” Information

However, one important advertising issue remains unresolved. Like other states, Massachusetts prohibits advertising language that is “misleading.” That has not been enough to prohibit “risk-free bets” from being advertised as MA welcome bonuses. Risk-free bets require bettors to risk real money for site credits. Bettors can only use site credits on a sportsbook’s platform. 

So, risk-free bets aren’t really risk-free. 

One of the hard questions Massachusetts will have to answer in its sports betting marketing rules isn’t just how to manage sports betting ad volume. It’ll be how to manage misleading welcome bonus language that has been allowed in almost every US sports betting market.      

Also read: Underage Sports Betting Regulation Holding Up Massachusetts Sports Betting

Sports Betting Ad Restrictions In Other States

Other states have found ways to address gambling advertising and launch online sports betting.  

Colorado’s regulations concerning risk-free bets state that “…if the customer has to risk or lose their own money or has conditions attached to their own money, then the offer or bonus must disclose those terms.” Sportsbooks offer those terms, but they are still allowed to offer risk-free bets. 

The next clause states that bonuses are “not be described as risk-free if the customer needs to incur any loss or risk their own money to use or withdraw winnings from the risk-free bet.” While bettors can risk their own money to earn site credits, bettors don’t risk funds to use or withdraw winnings. So, risk-free bets are still legal in Colorado.  

Related news: Massachusetts To Be Strict On Underage Sports Gambling

Eliminating Ambiguity 

Ohio words its marketing guidelines similarly to Colorado. However, the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) released an FAQ page for sports betting law compliance. It explicitly prohibits marketing language such as “$100 free bet once you bet $100.”

The FAQs are unambiguous. Traditional “risk-free” language is prohibited under the OCCC’s interpretation of Ohio law.   

After Ohio released its draft rules, FanDuel changed its risk-free bet to a no-sweat first bet. However, FanDuel commercials in Ohio still included an offer of $100 in free bets rather than risk-free bets. If prohibitions on certain phrases have such easy workarounds, then enforcement of ad regulations needs to change more than the language governing those ads. 

Determining sportsbook ad frequency is important. However, enforcing the language in those ads is a judgment that regulators must choose to make. The standard clause barring “misleading” language from sports betting ads hasn’t led to lawsuits challenging welcome bonuses across the country. 

Choices about whether to bring lawsuits against sportsbooks peddling misleading ad language will be as important as state guidelines.    

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Risk-Free Bets Aren’t Risk-Free 

In an executive summary of over 140 sports wagering and gambling addiction studies and reports, the National Council on Problem Gambling identified “free” and “risk-free” language as a concern. The document notes that high volumes of sports betting advertisements combined with “free” or “risk-free” language “make it more difficult for sports bettors who are trying to curtail their gambling.”

Ad blitzes are the most visible annoyance in new sports betting markets. But the long-term impact of misleading risk-free ad language could lead to a panicked backlash against the sports betting industry. The first viral story about someone who relapses into gambling because of a welcome bonus will endanger the industry. 

Of all the broadcasting issues Massachusetts faces, the underrated issue of bonus language is worth attention.

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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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