Monday, February 6, 2023

On the same day that it awarded Fanatics initial approval for a digital sports betting license, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission released its bet menu, discussed stringent guidelines around advertising, announced the hiring of a new director of sports betting, and discussed in detail how promotional play will be handled with regards to taxes.

Fanatics is the last of five operators that have applied for Category 3 tethered mobile licenses to be approved. The approval means that the company, which announced Thursday morning that it would debut its retail operations at Maryland’s FedEx Field later this month, is now at least initially licensed in three states — Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Fanatics remains mum on when and where its first mobile launch will be, but last week it said that it would be ready to launch on the early March universal date still to be scheduled in Massachusetts.

Commission staff on Thursday reviewed the bet menu that will be available to operators, and it appears to include all of the usual types of wagers, including straight bets, moneyline bets, prop bets, and more. Commissioner Brad Hill seemed surprised at the depth and breadth of the available offerings and suggested that he believed that the menu would be downsized at launch. No other state has limited its bet menu at launch, and it does not appear that the MGC staff has plans to do that.

The state’s law allows for betting on professional and collegiate sports with the exception of local college teams. It does have a twist, though, that will allow consumers to wager on local college teams if they are participants in some major tournaments. The MGC will vote on the bet menu at its Jan. 20 meeting, ahead of the Jan. 31 launch of retail sportsbooks.

Advertising dos and don’ts

In a key part of the meeting, commissioners reviewed proposed advertising and marketing regulations. The MGC has been clear that responsible gambling is a critical issue, particularly in relation to advertising, and the proposed regulations reflect that. In addition to laying down stringent standards around responsible gambling messaging, commission staff shared a page full of guidelines that would ban advertising to minors. Included in that list, no advertising is permitted on or at:

  • Media or social media outlets that are aimed at minors.
  • Elementary, middle, or high school campuses, or on college or university campuses, or to at-risk or self-excluded gamblers.
  • Events where 75% or more of attendees are presumed to be under 21 years of age.

In addition, operators may not use minors, “students, schools or colleges, or school or college settings” in any advertising, and wagering advertisements of any kind may not appear on “products, clothing, toys, games, or game equipment designed or intended for persons under” the age of 21.

The proposed rules follow intense conversation earlier this month by the commission about whether it could control when sports betting advertisements could be viewed on billboards or public transit. The issue came up during an application review, and commissioners voiced concern that underage students riding public transit would be subject to sports betting advertisements. The MGC decided to look into whether Boston’s public transit uses digital advertising that would allow for ads to be shown only during certain hours.

In addition, the commission made it a condition of permanent licensure for some applicants that they not partner with any Massachusetts colleges or universities. It further made clear that it does not condone existing partnerships with colleges or universities outside of the state.

The rules also contain language that won’t allow athletes under the age of 21 to partner with sportsbooks, won’t allow for the use of “free” in advertising and marketing materials, and won’t allow for advertising to reach “saturation levels” at any sporting event or any kind of broadcast of an event.

In other news …

The commission also sent out a press release saying that it had appointed Bruce Band, assistant director of its Investigations & Enforcement Bureau and its Gaming Agents Division chief, to become head of sports wagering. Band will oversee all things sports betting and coordinate with other divisions within the gaming commission.

Under the new Massachusetts law, the MGC will be able to award up to 15 digital sports betting licenses and five retail licenses — one each for the state’s three casinos and two horse racetracks.

Late last year it looked possible that a 16th digital and sixth retail license could come into play, as Great Meadowbrook Farm in the town of Hardwick began lobbying for horse racing. Had town residents approved the expansion of the facility, it would have been eligible for a Category 2 license, which allows for one retail location and one digital skin attached to a racing facility. But the town’s residents voted last weekend not to allow the expansion.

According to The Republican, backers of the proposal will decide by late month whether to further pursue the idea, either in Hardwick or another jurisdiction.

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