As six mobile sports betting operators prepare to go live in Massachusetts on Friday (March 10), the state's attorney general's office is calling for regulations to be strengthened to protect consumers from potential risks of problem gambling.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on Thursday approved certificates of operation for FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars, Barstool, BetMGM and WynnBET, enabling the six operators to launch early Friday morning.
“Tomorrow is a day that will put into effect the law of the land with respect to sports wagering and allow online sports wagering,” MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein said at the beginning of Thursday’s six-and-a-half hour meeting.
The Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act became law in August 2022 and Judd-Stein said the commission had since held around 80 public meetings to fully implement the law.
Betr, the Jake Paul-backed microbetting sportsbook, confirmed it would not launch on Friday, but it is expected to begin operations sometime over the next month.
Two other approved companies, Fanatics and Bally Bet, are scheduled to launch in May. Betway will reportedly launch in Massachusetts in the first quarter of 2024.
Massachusetts gaming regulators also finalized several rules Thursday that will oversee and allow mobile sports betting to launch in the state, among them regulations for collecting past-due child support and tax obligations, and house rules for online sportsbook operations.
One change agreed to by commissioners will be in regard to voided wagers.
The five-member commission voted in favor of a rule waiver that will not allow sports-betting companies to void wagers due to a material change in circumstances or an obvious error without prior approval from the MGC. An example of an obvious error is a bet placed with incorrect odds.
Also on Thursday, staff members from state attorney general Andrea Joy Campbell’s office raised concerns over the launch of sports betting and promised to make sure operators do business in a safe and responsible manner.
Pat Moore, first assistant to the state attorney general, warned the gaming commission that a segment of the population will be negatively affected by sports betting, and will “slide into addiction” facing continuing personal, financial and mental health challenges.
“That population is part of the population that our office is duty bound to represent. We intend to give them a voice,” Moore said.
Moore noted that the legislation legalizing sports betting required that it be done in a “safe and responsible” manner.
“We intend to do our part to hold operators to the safe and responsible part,” he added. “Among other things, that means making sure operators are abiding by our consumer protection laws, particularly as to the marketing, promotion and even the design of their sports-betting app.”
In addition to testifying on Thursday, Moore and several of his colleagues submitted a nine-page letter to the commission emphasizing five crucial points, including having the MGC’s mobile sports-betting regulations complement consumer protections set forth in other state and federal laws just like every other business in the state.
Moore also urged the commission to strengthen its sports-wagering regulations so that no marketing or promotion is targeted at people under the age of 21, and to avoid inundating those suffering or at risk of gambling addiction with repeated offers to wager.
The commission should strictly limit, and in certain circumstances, outright prohibit, the potentially deceptive use of “experts” or “insiders” paid by operators and promotions that distort the gaming experience and its risks and benefits.
Finally, the letter urged the commission to require gaming operators to use their extensive data about consumer behavior to identify and intervene with problem gamblers to direct them toward appropriate support and assistance.
Along with Moore, Jared Rinehimer, chief of the office's data privacy and security division, Mychii Snape, deputy chief, and Liza Hirsh, director of the children’s justice unit civil right division, also testified on Thursday.
“I’m hearing each of you indicate to us there are ways we can make our regs better,” Judd-Stein said. “And when we hear that, we are all ears.”
She asked the officials to provide the commission with any specific regulatory language that will help strengthen the regulations before the promulgation process is concluded on March 23.
As online sports betting launches in Massachusetts, commission staff is already reviewing several FanDuel advertisements for potentially violating regulations.
The ads were flagged by commissioner Eileen O’Brien and are being reviewed by the MGC's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau.
One advertisement referenced internet gaming, another suggested consumers could get “free bets,” and a third promoted the use of credit cards or prepaid cards to wager, which is illegal in Massachusetts.
“I want this brought up in front of us for some sort of action,” O’Brien said, “To me, right out of the gates to have ‘free bets,’ iGaming, and implying you could use a credit or prepaid card, to me you have a myriad of violations all happening right before launch.”
Heather Hall, chief enforcement counsel, said two of the ads have already been taken down and that FanDuel was in the process of removing the ad that referenced credit cards.
O’Brien credited FanDuel with being responsive to her concerns, but said the potential violations were not self-reported.
O’Brien said she saw some of the ads while watching broadcast TV and some while watching the streaming service Hulu.