Mass. AG sounds alarm on ads the day before mobile sports betting starts

One day before mobile sports betting is set to launch, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell's office will sit down with the Gaming Commission to go over concerns it has with ways in which operators are advertising their sportsbooks and the possibility that young people in Massachusetts could be especially impacted.

In a nine-page letter written this week, the state's lawyers said "without meaningful guardrails governing how mobile sports wagering is marketed and promoted, the commonwealth — especially our young people — will be unduly exposed to potentially addicting products."

"Any smartphone is on the verge of becoming a digital sportsbook. With this expansion, the population of gamblers — and potential problem gamblers — may grow substantially," read the letter.

The scrutiny from the state's top law enforcement office stands in contrast to a presentation at Wednesday's Public Health Council by the Office of Problem Gambling Services where sports betting was barely mentioned.

The lawyers are expected to brief the commission Thursday morning on their concerns.

Mobile wagering, which is expected to quickly take over as the dominant form of betting, is set to go live here at 10 a.m. Friday and will make gambling easily accessible in every corner of Massachusetts (and up to three miles offshore).

This much-anticipated step in legal wagering follows the start of in-person betting in late January.

Clarifying rules around sportsbooks advertising

First Assistant Attorney General Patrick Moore and lawyers from Campbell's Data Privacy & Security Division, Consumer Protection Division, and Children's Justice Unit — who authored the letter — make clear that the office thinks the Gaming Commission's sports betting regulations are not strong enough in some cases.

Among their concerns is the "misleading nature" of some of the ads that have been rolled out so far in the lead up to mobile betting.

The attorney general's office specifically highlighted how some mobile sports betting companies sponsor segments before and sometimes during game broadcasts in which people affiliated with Boston professional sports teams suggest wagers. Such segments air regularly on NESN, which broadcasts Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox games.

The issue in this case is how "in such a segment, the sports wagering operator is paying a spokesperson to promote a bet that, as a business matter, the operator believes the customer will lose," according to the letter.

If the paid experts in the ads are in fact "simply entertainment" as opposed to "someone qualified to render gambling advice," the attorneys said the material will need to be presented differently to abide by the state's consumer protection act.

Campbell's office recognized that the gaming operators have agreed to voluntarily follow the commission's draft regulation, and so the presentation of these ads may be the result of "some incorrect belief that these segments are permissible." If this it the case, the attorneys wrote, additional clarity is needed.

Just this week, NESN announced a multi-year partnership with FanDuel that the broadcaster said "includes commercials, in-game sponsorship integrations, and pre-game features highlighting FanDuel, bringing the sportsbook's odds, insights and content directly to homes of New England's biggest sports fans."



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