U.S. Regulators Support Ban On College Player-Specific Prop Bets

March 7, 2024
Maryland has become the latest state to ban player-specific prop bets involving college games, a move that regulators in various states believe is necessary to protect college athletes from threats and social media harassment.

Maryland has become the latest state to ban player-specific prop bets involving college games, a move that regulators in various states believe is necessary to protect college athletes from threats and social media harassment.

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission last week directed sportsbook operators in the state to remove college prop wagers from their platforms by March 1, joining Ohio in enacting a ban on the wagers amid lobbying by the National Collegiate Athletic Administration (NCAA).

Such bets are already prohibited by laws or regulations in various U.S. states, while others have other restrictions on college bets that can include not allowing bets on any games involving local colleges or universities.

“Right from the beginning, Illinois followed the New Jersey model that you can’t bet on any games that involve any Illinois (college) team or is taking place within the borders of Illinois,” said Dan Gerber, general counsel with the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB).

Gerber said the IGB had not yet seen any requests to disallow prop bets on college athletes, but the conferences, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and college teams are all recognizing that this is an issue and there is a need for a comprehensive plan to address it.

“Everyone has a part to play in that,” Gerber said during a panel discussion at the Gaming Law, Compliance and Integrity Bootcamp hosted by Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey. 

Maryland's decision last week “was made in the interests of protecting college athletes from potential harassment related to their individual statistical performances,” Seth Elkin, a lottery spokesman, said in an email on Tuesday (March 5). “Wagers on individual awards, like the Heisman Trophy, are still allowed.”

The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) announced its ban on player-specific prop bets on February 23.

Matt Schuler, executive director of the commission, said he believed granting the NCAA’s request to remove the bets from the state’s wagering catalog “will safeguard the integrity of sports gaming and will be in the best interests of the public.”

One cited reason for the rule is to decrease instances of social media harassment and threats made against college athletes, which the NCAA has argued can often be caused by specific player props. 

Gerber said he was hopeful that these conversations over prop bets would continue, and that a national approach materializes, because “all of us should be in lockstep with each other.”

“It doesn’t make sense for us on these issues to take a position about a college wager that is different from someone else. These are issues that are affecting everyone nationwide,” Gerber said.

Kevin O’Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), agreed, saying his agency took steps before the launch of sports betting in the state to meet with college administrators and athletic departments who stressed that there should not be prop bets allowed on the performance of college athletes.

“We agreed, so right from the beginning we didn’t allow prop bets,” O’Toole said.

While there was unanimity from regulators on the issue of eliminating prop bets on college athletes, O’Toole acknowledged that is not the case in other policy areas including advertising, where each state has approved regulations unique to their markets.

“What we require is you have to have a connection to responsible gambling and a connection to problem gambling,” O’Toole said, noting a requirement for a warning message and a problem gambling hotline in Pennsylvania.

O’Toole said Pennsylvania also wanted it to be a meaningful regulation, so the PGCB requires all language to be a certain size, and the color cannot bleed into a different color in print.

“We didn’t want it to become a joke,” O’Toole said. “You had to have it, but no one could see it.”

O’Toole and Gerber were joined on the panel Monday by Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, Louis Rogacki, deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, and David Murley, deputy director of the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB).

Rogacki said he had no problem with the compliance staff of New Jersey sports-betting operators, but there were instances of compliance officials' “good friends in the marketing department that are constantly pushing the limits.”

He shared a story of negotiating with three companies wanting to advertise on the dashboards during New Jersey Devils hockey games at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Rogacki said regulators approved the advertisements, but the companies had to include the 1-800-GAMBLER problem gambling hotline number.

“There was an operator who wanted to put an advertisement on the ice and said it is not financially feasible for us to put 1-800-GAMBLER under the logo on the ice,” Rogacki said. “'No one is going to see it? Is there something else we can do?”

Rogacki said the DGE collaborated with the operator and the Prudential Center to have 1-800-GAMBLER on the scrolling ribbon around the arena every time a television commercial break ended.

Frank DiGiacomo, a partner with Duane Morris law firm who moderated the discussion, recognized that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has been taking the lead in terms of advertising regulations for the U.S. sports-betting market.

“Sports wagering is really a young industry,” said Judd-Stein, the state's chief regulatory official. “Companies, patrons and regulators are all learning, and they are going to be changing and adjusting.”

Judd-Stein said the Massachusetts Commission used the state’s strong law in terms of consumer protection and responsible gambling to guide its approach.

“With a green light under our statute, we decided that we would adopt a very rigorous advertising regulation,” she said. “If you look at the regulation… the responsibility begins with the licensees.”

Among the advertising restrictions in Massachusetts are requiring licensees to own the conduct and the content of their affiliate partners, prohibiting the use of symbols or language that might appeal to those under 21 years of age, and prohibition of any suggestion of a guaranteed win or any suggestion that sports wagering can be used as a means to escape personal, financial or professional problems.

“We were not going to have any tolerance for any marketing, any branding that targeted under 21s or those who were on any kind of exclusion list,” Judd-Stein said. “Our staff will watch (licensees) and see when they run afoul, and we may need to make some adjustments to keep our regulations enforceable.”

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