BOSTON (SHNS) – Among Massachusetts gaming regulators, there is a heightened interest in taking a closer look at advertising practices in the casino gambling industry but also the ways in which the sports betting industry that could soon be regulated in Massachusetts advertises.
The Gaming Commission heard a report Thursday from its research and responsible gaming team detailing the findings of a six-year problem gambling study released in April. The study identified demographic groups particularly at risk of experiencing gambling-related problems, including males and people in lower-income groups.
Among the policy recommendations that Mark Vander Linden, the commission’s director of research and responsible gaming, presented to commissioners for consideration was to “[l]imit gambling advertising and availability, especially in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, or groups that may be at increased risk of experiencing gambling harms.”
“I recognize that this is may be difficult to achieve or to wrap our arms around in terms of policy,” Vander Linden told commissioners, who were not asked to take any action on the recommendations Thursday. “But if we know that individuals in lower socioeconomic groups, or there are specific groups that are at greater risk, we should take a look at what factors may exist within the community that we can have an influence over.”
Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein pointed out that the commission has not really discussed advertising during her tenure, which dates to early 2019. Commissioner Gayle Cameron, who has served on the Gaming Commission since its inception, said the one advertising-related matter she could recall coming before the commission was MGM Springfield’s proposal to have a large digital sign with moving images visible to drivers on Interstate 91.
“But what we haven’t had — and I’m wondering how we could gather this information — is reports to the commission of inflammatory advertising, something that really is harmful, whether it be to young people or those kinds of neighborhoods,” Cameron said.
When it comes to rules or regulations for casino advertising, Vander Linden said the commission has “integrated guidance within the responsible gaming framework on casino advertising and, by and large, the casino industry follows guidance that was set out by the American Gaming Association.”
But as Cameron and Commissioner Brad Hill said Thursday, advertising could become a greater issue if sports betting is legalized in Massachusetts. Hill and the House of Representatives voted in July to approve sports betting and charge the Gaming Commission with regulating it, but the Senate has been far less interested. If sports betting breaks through its Beacon Hill logjam, the Gaming Commission is widely expected to add the activity to its portfolio.
“Last night when we were watching a baseball game, DraftKings was on every single inning down in the right-hand corner,” Hill said, referring to the National League wild-card game. “And they pushed it and pushed it and pushed it, every single inning that we watched of the game last night.”
Vander Linden said there are “definitely some lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions and sports wagering advertising” and highlighted the idea of a “whistle-to-whistle” ban on sports betting advertising, like the policy in the UK that prohibits betting ads during live sporting events.
“So if we head down that path, it’s something that I think should be really closely considered,” he said.
The attention paid by regulators to advertising in the casino gambling and sports betting industries mirrors the way that daily fantasy sports exploded into the Massachusetts mainstream — and onto regulators’ radar screen — in September 2015 with ubiquitous ads on television, the internet, and plastered all over public places like South Station.
A review of DraftKings and the industry in general launched by Attorney General Maura Healey eventually led to penalties for DraftKings and FanDuel, and consumer protection regulations for daily fantasy sports.