Massachusetts Gaming Regulators Urged To Consider In-Play Betting Ban, Ad Restrictions

September 12, 2022
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An academic report looking at the potential impact of sports betting on Massachusetts has recommended a ban on in-game wagering, which researchers say is disproportionately utilized by problem gamblers.

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An academic report looking at the potential impact of sports betting on Massachusetts has recommended a ban on in-game wagering, which researchers say is disproportionately utilized by problem gamblers.

Dr. Rachel Volberg, principal researcher with the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences, proposed the in-play wagering ban on Thursday (September 8) as she presented the report by during a Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) meeting on sports wagering.

“We believe the gaming commission would be wise to give careful consideration to whether or how to permit this type of betting in Massachusetts,” Volberg said.

Volberg also recommended that regulators include restrictions on advertising and celebrity endorsements of sports betting in Massachusetts in their regulations.

She said the latest report of the MGC's Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) independent academic research group, titled "Legalized Sports Betting in the United States and Potential Impact in Massachusetts", found that influencers and celebrity endorsers tend to promote sports betting among young people, precipitate relapse in recovered gamblers and counteract the effectiveness of messages advocating limited, or lower risk, involvement.

Commissioner Eileen O’Brien questioned whether Massachusetts regulators could enforce banning celebrity endorsements or restrict advertisements.

O’Brien told Volberg she was watching television and there were all types of advertisements for sports betting in neighboring New Hampshire.

Such restrictions would not be without international precedent, however.

For example, the Netherlands on July 1 banned celebrities from appearing in gambling ads in the country, while similar restrictions have been established in Spain and are soon set to take effect, on a more limited basis, in the UK.

“It might be hard to do, but I like the idea” of restricting advertisements and celebrity endorsements, O’Brien said.

In addition, Volberg said regulators should consider a requirement for operators to clearly offer deposit, loss, time and betting limits during the account signup and registration process, before the first wagers are made. She said gamblers should have to opt out of these features rather than opt in.

Volberg added that any self-exclusion option should apply to all Massachusetts-based online sites urged regulators to restrict player bonuses where rewards are associated with increased expenditure by players, and require responsible gambling features to be offered on all online sites.

“I know this is not a very popular position, but we believe these responsible gambling features should be opt-out rather than opt-in,” she said.

O’Brien expressed support for the idea of getting a benefit such as a bonus for playing responsibly, but questioned who would pay for it.

“It would be incumbent on the licensees or the operators to provide these incentives,” Volberg said.

“There is so much that is provided as incentives to individuals to bet more or bet longer. How can you incentivize people to behave in ways that are more inline with what they want to do?”

Volberg admitted that she had not considered how that would be paid for, but suggested perhaps it could be a partnership between the operators and the gaming commission.

Mark Vander Linden, director of the MGC’s Research and Responsible Gaming Division, reminded commissioners that Massachusetts regulations already incentivize responsible gambling in brick-and-mortar casinos through the PlayMyWay program that enables gamblers to apply self-set limits to slot machine play.

“We would love to explain ways we could incentivize that going forward,” Vander Linden said. “Obviously, you would need to be careful about what structure that takes. I think new and innovative ideas are always on the table to accomplish that.”

At the end of Thursday’s commission meeting, chair Cathy Judd-Stein said regulators would continue the conversation on Tuesday (September 13) when the MGC hosts a meeting dedicated to responsible gambling related to sports betting.

Among those scheduled to testify are Alan Feldman, a distinguished fellow for responsible gaming at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ International Gaming Institute, and Keith Whyte, executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling.

In addition to the policy recommendations, Volberg said the SEIGMA report found sports betting in Massachusetts is expected to have “far less impact economically” than the state’s two other legal types of gambling, which are land-based casinos and the state lottery.

The tax revenue from legal sports betting in Massachusetts is estimated to be between $8.6m and $63m annually, depending on the tax rate, compared to the $1.1bn in state revenues from the lottery and $168m in taxes generated by casinos in 2019.

“So even in the best of scenarios, sports betting generates about 5 percent of revenues generated from the state lottery, and 35 percent of the revenue generated by the casinos,” Volberg said.

Even though sports betting is not yet being offered legally in Massachusetts, Volberg said researchers found a substantial increase in wagering participation in an online panel survey in April 2022, compared to eight years ago.

According to the survey, 17.8 percent of respondents said they wagered on sports, compared to 50.5 percent at casinos, and 73.2 percent through the Massachusetts Lottery.

“Legalization in Massachusetts has the potential to increase the rates of gambling harm and problem gambling but we think there is an opportunity here as we had with casinos to try and minimize and mitigate (the harm) based on the infrastructure we already have in Massachusetts,” Volberg said.

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