Massachusetts Senate Seeks 'Whistle-To-Whistle' Ban On Sports-Betting Ads

April 26, 2022
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A closely watched sports-betting bill in Massachusetts has been amended and approved by a key Senate committee, with new provisions added to prohibit any advertising around televised sporting events.

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A closely watched sports-betting bill in Massachusetts has been amended and approved by a key Senate committee, with new provisions added to prohibit any advertising around televised sporting events.

Bill H 3993, which was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives last year, finally advanced out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Friday (April 22), some nine months after first being referred to the influential panel.

The committee’s unanimous vote of 12-0, with four abstentions, in favor of its heavily amended version of the bill now tees up a full vote on the Senate floor that has been scheduled for Thursday.

Passage by the full Senate would then kick off at least several weeks of negotiations between a conference of selected senators and House members who would have to reconcile several significant policy differences between the two chambers of the legislature.

Among the most notable features of the new version of H 3993 as approved by the Senate committee on Friday are some of the toughest restrictions on advertising and responsible betting seen in any sports wagering legislation proposed in the U.S. to date.

Under the bill approved by senators, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) would be required to adopt regulations prohibiting any “advertising on television during the live broadcast or online streaming of a sporting event, to the extent practicable, including the period beginning five minutes before the start of the sporting event and ending five minutes after the end of the sporting event.”

Such a restriction would replicate the so-called “whistle-to-whistle” ad bans for sports betting that have been established either through industry standards or formal laws in the likes of the UK, Ireland, Germany and Australia, making Massachusetts the first state in the U.S. to take such an approach.

In addition, the MGC regulations would have to prohibit “any form of advertising, marketing or branding that is determined by the commission to disrupt the ability of a viewer, at a sporting event or remotely, to watch, listen to or otherwise experience a sporting event,” extending similar provisions from the House version of the bill that would have targeted only advertising at sports events.

Also proposed in the Massachusetts Senate bill is a potential ban on the advertising of player bonuses, somewhat akin to restrictions now in place in Ontario, with implementing regulations required to bar “any advertising, marketing and branding through certain identified promotional items that, as determined by the commission, tend to increase the likelihood of problem gambling, which may include giveaways, coupons or promotional gaming credits.”

Elsewhere, all deposits via credit cards would be prohibited, mirroring another restriction recently imposed in the UK but already in place in several states, including Iowa and Tennessee.

Massachusetts sports-betting operators, per the Senate committee’s amendment, would also have to submit an annual responsible gambling plan for approval by regulators, with the MGC to make further policy recommendations in the area based on the findings of its research into the links between sports betting, problem gambling and sporting integrity, including impacts on those under the age of 25.

As in New Jersey and New York, any players would be blocked when their lifetime deposits exceed $2,500 and only permitted to resume once they acknowledge meeting that limit.

The Senate’s new bill comes as the MGC is already consulting on potential changes to its current advertising regulations for established land-based casinos, including a recommendation that ads cannot target demographics proven to be at greater risk of addiction.

The MGC recommendations would also ban casino ads via any media whose audience is not at least 85 percent aged over 21, with the same provisions also included in the Massachusetts Senate committee’s sports-betting bill approved on Friday.

Divergent Approaches To Tax, Licensing

The tighter ad restrictions and a ban on credit cards are far from the only significant policy differences between the two versions of the bill as passed by the Massachusetts House last July and that which emerged from the Senate panel last week.

Unlike the House bill, the Senate version would prohibit betting on esports or any college sports events, reflecting integrity concerns cited by several of Massachusetts’ powerful universities and colleges.

Both versions would allow both retail and online sports wagering through the state’s three incumbent casinos, but with different regulatory structures for other operators.

The House bill approved last year would permit an unlimited number of standalone mobile-only licenses for the likes of Boston-based DraftKings, whereas the Senate’s version would instead allow an additional six licenses to be awarded for retail and online sportsbooks to be chosen based on applicants’ proposed locations, investment plans and responsible betting approaches.

In another key difference, tax rates would be notably higher under the Senate’s version at 20 percent of gross revenue for retail sports betting and 35 percent for mobile, versus 12.5 percent and 15 percent in the House.

The Senate’s bill also would not require use of official league data, as proposed by the House.

According to reports, all senators are able to propose further amendments to the Ways and Means Committee bill before the end of Tuesday (April 26) ahead of the floor vote scheduled for two days later, so it is not clear how many of the more unique provisions will remain in any final bill passed by the full Senate.

In a statement to Massachusetts’ State House News Service on Friday, Senate President Karen Spilka, who to date has been at best lukewarm on sports betting, said she was “pleased to see the [Ways and Means] committee has come to agreement on a strong proposal and I look forward to discussing it with my colleagues next week.”

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