Among the most talked about responsible gaming initiatives in the Massachusetts Senate’s sports betting proposal is a ban on sports gambling ads during a live TV broadcast or online streaming of a sporting event.
The MA House does not include such a provision in its version of the legal sports betting bill, but the ban is among a number of differences between the two legislative chambers. A group of six lawmakers – three from the House and three from the Senate – are in a conference committee looking to find common ground.
The Senate proposal contains more responsible gaming directives than the House, including the advertising ban. It also seeks to restrict credit card use for bettors’ online betting accounts.
The Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health (MACGH) applauded the Senate’s responsible gaming approach, which, it said, included many of the MACGH’s recommendations.
“The Senate has been innovative in their approach to controls put on sports wagering advertising and messaging players that are demonstrating erratic or out of the norm behavior for them or against the average player,” MACGH Executive Director Marlene Warner told PlayMA. “The Senate has a number of safeguards in place that represent best practices in New Jersey, New York, etc., as well as some tested interventions from the [United Kingdom] and certain provinces in Canada.”
The sports betting advertising ban is among the initiatives borrowed from the UK. If the ad restriction is implemented in Massachusetts, the Bay State would become the first US state to require such a ban. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have made sports betting legal. It is live in 30 of those states.
What the sports betting bill says on the ban
In its version of the bill, the Senate directs the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to establish a rule to prohibit the TV ads during live sporting events. The language reads:
“The commission shall promulgate regulations to prohibit … advertising on television during the live broadcast or online streaming of a sporting event, to the extent practicable, including the period beginning 5 minutes before the start of the sporting event and ending 5 minutes after the end of the sporting event.”
The American Gaming Association (AGA), a trade group that advocates for the casino gaming industry, identified the ban as one of three “critical” areas for lawmakers to address in a letter it sent to the Legislature.
AGA opposes advertising restriction
AGA President and CEO William Miller Jr. wrote about the role sportsbook advertising plays in keeping people away from illegal books. Miller said these books enjoy an advantage over legal books, including offering better odds and promotions.
Illegal books, Miller wrote, ignore any commitment to responsible gaming.
“Placing broad restrictions on legal sportsbook advertising will only exacerbate these competitive advantages by creating consumer confusion and preventing legal operators from drawing customers into the regulated market,” Miller wrote. “Competing states are already advertising in Massachusetts with no restrictions, which will only increase the confusion.”
Offshore books and Massachusetts
AGA contends illegal offshore books pose a threat in Massachusetts and advertising is a critical teaching tool in new sports betting markets.
Research by AGA shows internet searches in Massachusetts for illegal offshore sportsbooks increased by 22% year-over-year and nearly 60% of sportsbook searches in Massachusetts were for illegal sites. Both were above the national average.
“Advertising is a critical tool in new markets to inform the public about which sportsbooks are legal and regulated, as well as to ensure customers receive responsible gaming messages,” Miller wrote. “From the start, our industry’s top priority has been getting sports betting right and that includes advertising.”
Whistle-to-whistle ban in the UK
The UK instituted a whistle-to-whistle ban on TV gambling advertising during games in 2019. A Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) report said the restriction reduced the amount of TV ads seen by those age 17 and younger by 97% over the first year it was in place.
The BGC represents the regulated betting industry in the UK.
“The BGC was set up to improve standards in our industry,” BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said. “The success of the whistle-to-whistle ban is a clear example of that commitment and I’m very pleased at how effective it has been during its first year in operation. In particular, it’s encouraging to see that it has effectively eliminated children’s ability to view betting adverts during live televised sport.”
All senators not on board
Massachusetts state Sen. Patrick O’Connor, one of the three senators appointed to the conference committee for H3993, opposes the advertising ban. He says it’s a free speech and practicality issue.
“We are all concerned about the potential flood of sports betting ads that will follow the hopeful enactment of this legislation,” O’Connor said last month during Senate debate of the bill. “I think we all understand what that could mean for children and people who suffer from gambling addiction. But the language in the underlying bill simply goes too far.
“We should be doing what other jurisdictions do on this front and give the gaming commission the tools to review licensed operator ads,” O’Connor said. “A full whistle-to-whistle ban in my opinion is not constitutional, not practical, not logical.”