Massachusetts To Require Age Restrictions On Stadium Sports-Betting Logos

June 30, 2023
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After a somewhat contentious hearing, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has narrowly approved an amended regulation that requires a logo of a sports-betting brand to include language that only those over the age of 21 can participate in wagering.

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After a somewhat contentious hearing, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has narrowly approved an amended regulation that requires a logo of a sports-betting brand to include language that only those over the age of 21 can participate in wagering.

The additional language would only be required on signage in or at a sports venue, including Fenway Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox, and TD Garden where the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins and National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics reside.

Currently, BetMGM branding is on the iconic left field wall, known as the Green Monster, at Fenway Park.

The five-member commission also approved a 90-day waiver that begins Friday (June 30) for licensees to be in compliance with the new regulation.

Thursday’s discussion was similar to the MGC’s debate on initial draft language where the original intent was to include the age requirement on branded t-shirts or hats in an effort to protect children from gambling brands.

At their meeting on May 16, commissioners agreed to a waiver to seek more comments from operators and businesses to amend the regulation to make it more effective.

“As the commission discussed [previously], the proposed branding restriction would be a first of its kind,” Adam Berger, an attorney with Duane Morris who represents Fanatics Betting & Gaming (FBG), wrote in a four-page letter to the commission.

“While FBG respects the commission’s desire to be a leader in adopting thoughtful and effective advertising rules, the comparative alcohol and casino industries are not subject to the type of restriction,” Berger said.

“By allowing branding without such disclosures in the casino context, but not the sports wagering context, the commission is essentially providing casinos which operate sportsbooks with an unfair competitive advantage over those who do not also maintain brick-and-mortar casino operations.”

In a letter dated June 12 and submitted to the MGC on behalf of the Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox, the franchises opposed amending the regulation to all displays of operators’ logos and trademarks, including fixed signs.

“It does not make sense or seem necessary for fixed signs bearing only the logo of a sports-betting operator, including those in sports venues, to be required to have 'must be 21 or older' language,” the letter read.

The teams also ask regulators whether the fixed signs “21 or older” language would need to be a particular size in relation to the logo.

“We are not aware of any other context or precedent in which a regulator requires disclaimers on branding signage to be a particular size,” the team representatives stated.

That question was not answered Thursday before the MGC voted 3-2 to approve additional changes to the language of Regulation 205 CMR 256.05 that deals with advertising to those under 21 years of age in Massachusetts.

MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein said she understood the teams' request for the regulation to apply to all logos, but that is “probably impractical.”

“Let’s assume this, I have a Fanatics hat on and I’m sitting for the entire game at Fenway in a crowd of kids [and] let’s pretend Fanatics doesn't have any fixed signage … does that Fanatics hat have to have a plus-21,” Judd-Stein asked.

“Are we making a distinction [that’s] not very impactful,” she added.

Commissioner Eileen O’Brien responded by saying she had a “huge issue with them combining their logo and branding in this context because the same reason you are talking about will they have to separate their logo; I actually think they should be separated for that very reason.”

“But the example you gave if a person walks in with attire is very different from one of our licensees choosing to pay to put signage up in a fixed location where people can’t get away from it,” O’Brien said. “I think it is very easy to draw the distinction in that regard.”

O’Brien has been in favor of adopting stricter regulations for advertising and marketing of sports betting.

Commissioner Brad Hill, who joined Judd-Stein in voting against the proposed language Thursday, admitted he was a “little confused and maybe again we’ve been at it for the last year, I think it is common sense that you’ve got to be 21 years or older when you see one of those signs.”

Judd-Stein also expressed concern that this step went too far in regulating operators.

“There is not much difference between a logo and an ad, if the logo is being put up some place to draw business,” said Commissioner Jordan Maynard.

“The truth is, I don’t want to put an undue burden on any of these companies just getting started here [but] at the same time, I see a lot of benefit in fixed signage including 21-plus language,” Maynard said.

In the end, Maynard, O’Brien and Commissioner Nakisha Skinner voted in favor of the amended language.

The final version of the regulation reads as follows: “Advertising, marketing, branding, and other promotional materials published, aired, displayed, disseminated, or distributed by or on behalf of any Sports Wagering Operator shall state that patrons must be twenty-one years of age or older to participate; provided that branding consisting only of a display on an Operator’s logo or trademark related to sports wagering shall not be required to comply with this provision unless it is, or is intended to be, displayed on signage or a fixed structure in or at a sports venue where it is likely to be viewed by persons under 21 years of age.”

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