It’s nearly impossible these days to turn on the TV or scroll on social media without seeing a “relentless barrage” of sports betting ads before mobile gambling launches, as advocates call for the state to put in ad restrictions like for tobacco products.
The avalanche of sports betting ads comes with enticing promos from the companies — which are offering hundreds of dollars in bonus bets if the user signs up before mobile betting goes live on Friday.
“It has been a relentless barrage of sports gambling advertising,” said Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, who lives in Massachusetts. “It’s unrelenting, and this is a product that’s highly dangerous and addictive.”
All of this advertising lures in people to gamble from anywhere in the state, especially those who are under 35 years old, Bernal said.
“We need to restrict commercialized sports gambling ads, just like with the restrictions for tobacco products in Massachusetts,” Bernal added. “We don’t allow Marlboro to paint their logo on the Green Monster. It’s time we treat sports gambling like the dangerous and addictive product that it is.”
About 2% of the state’s adult population experiences problem gambling, and 8.4% of Massachusetts adults are at-risk gamblers, according to research cited by the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health.
With the expansion of legal sports betting, it’s expected that the need for services and resources will increase in the state, especially for young men.
Advocates want for the state to place a limit on the number of ads during a game, and to limit celebrity endorsements for the ads.
“We don’t know the impact of all these ads,” said Marlene Warner, CEO of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health. “Everyone’s biggest concern is what will be the impact of all these ads. The fear of the unknown is driving a lot of the concerns.”
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office this week submitted comments to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission about mobile sports betting regulations. The AG’s Office on Thursday will be testifying about this in front of the MGC.
The AG’s Office wrote to the MGC, “To avoid inundating those suffering from or believed to be at risk of gambling addiction with repeated invitations to wager, the Commission must carefully scrutinize app design to prevent addictive elements and strictly limit the ability of gaming operators and their marketing partners to target those vulnerable populations with online advertising or communications.”
An MGC spokesperson said the agency is “committed to introducing sports wagering in the Commonwealth in a manner that puts consumer protection and responsible gaming at the forefront.”
“The MGC has held over 70 public meetings as well as a host of roundtables with invited stakeholders as we work to implement legal sports wagering, which was passed by the legislature seven months ago,” MGC spokesperson Thomas Mills said. “During these public conversations we have talked extensively about advertising… and our goals to ensure a strong responsible gaming message is communicated when operators advertise their products, and that these ads do not target vulnerable populations.”
Mills added, “We continue to take comments on our advertising regulation, 205 CMR 256, and will incorporate appropriate measures to ensure operators are advertising responsibly.”
The MA Problem Gambling Helpline is 1-800-327-5050, and people can get help at www.gamblinghelplinema.org.
Also, the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health’s GamLine is 1-800-GAM-1234. People can also visit MACGH.org to LiveChat 24/7.