Massachusetts Gaming Commission Examines Casino Advertising Practices

Written By Veronica Sparks on April 25, 2022Last Updated on June 7, 2022
Casino Advertising: Is It Triggering Problem Gambling? MGC Investigates

With sports betting likely coming to Massachusetts soon, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) wants to get problem gambling under control. For the time being, they’ve fixed their eyes on casino advertising.

Casino advertising criticized as irresponsible

Truthfully, gambling ads are among the most aggressive out there. With such a huge budget for advertisements, gambling giants can bombard people relentlessly with enticing offers and sign-up deals.

“The ads are inescapable,” says Colin A. Young, reporter for State House News Service (SHNS). “Some claim to offer ‘risk-free’ betting while others tout hundreds or thousands of dollars in ‘free’ or ‘bonus’ play for new customers.”

Young added that, if this marketing approach is left unchecked, “the star-studded commercials and digital ads can also open a world of trouble for young people and others at risk of irresponsible gambling.”

Study shows publicity fuels problem gambling

A six-year study was conducted by the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health. The study sought to monitor problem gambling in the state over time and identify triggers, like casino introductions.

MGM Springfield opened in August of 2018 and Encore Boston Harbor opened in June of 2019. Strategically, both casino openings fell within the study’s operation dates.

Even before MGM Springfield opened, the study reported a “significant increase” in problem gambling and those with gambling addictions who relapsed in the state.

Gambling licenses already have regulations for problem gambling

Massachusetts casinos and gambling facilities already face restrictions in the way they advertise.

These restrictions prevent them from targeting people who are under 21 or people who have submitted their names on the voluntary exclusion list with the commission.

Furthermore, promotions must also have information listed for seeking treatment for problem gambling. The MGC’s Responsible Gambling Framework has an overall mandate for casinos to advertise responsibly.

The framework states that casinos “should develop and implement strategies to ensure that advertising and promotions are delivered responsibly… including messages related to the promotion positive gambling and advertising problem gambling resources.”

Targeted mobile marketing: more casino advertising regulation

Regulations on casino advertising are in place. However, concerns over mobile advertising and the upcoming launch of sports betting are spurring cries for more regulation.

The MGC’s research team compiled a white paper that details:

  • Current regulations on gambling advertising in Massachusetts (as well as other states)
  • Research on the relationship between advertising and problem gambling
  • Possible strategies and regulations that the MGC could put in place

Mark Vander Linden, MGC’s Director of Research and Responsible Gaming, is concerned about targeted marketing via mobile ads.

“Advertising to sell a product or service is nothing new,” Vander Linden says. “In recent years, however, advertising practices have become particularly widespread; it is no longer about television commercials, billboards and advertisements in newspapers. Advertising today uses user-specific data collected through social media and other means to deliver highly targeted ads through our smartphones and other screens.”

In addition, Vander Linden believes the commission should do more to regulate casino advertising in gambling.

“On the surface, it appears that it’s the free market at stake,” he says. “But gambling is not a risk-free activity, and therefore commissioners might consider additional measures to and/or contain Massachusetts gambling advertising by our licensees and their parent companies to minimize damage.”

MGC research team suggests solutions and additional regulations

The white paper that MGC’s research team presented had several suggested regulations. These recommendations include:

  • Mandates that a percentage of each licensee’s budget for advertising reverses for responsible gambling messaging
  • Establish a reporting process for violations to gambling advertising regulations
  • Mandatory marketing training for casino officials

One additional recommendation piqued the interest of MGC commissioners. It was to make gambling advertisements mirror that of the Cannabis Control Commission.

Those regulations only allow advertising on certain mediums. Ads may only run in places where at least 85% of those who see it are “reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older based on data on the composition of the hearing.”

“I would like us to take a deep look at the cannabis commission,” said Cathy Judd-Stein, MGC Chair. “They’re in Massachusetts, they know how we ride in Massachusetts. So, I like looking at their regulations and I’m particularly interested in – well, I think a few have pointed this out – the fourth ban on advertising and around 85% of the audience.”

Public comment accepted by MGC on MA sports betting launch

The MGC isn’t really announcing any major decisions or taking pointed or tangible action on the issue of problem gambling and marketing at the moment. However, commissioners agree that comments from the public are beneficial on the discussed white paper.

As a next step, the commission plans to open up a period of roughly two weeks for public comments. This will likely need to happen well ahead of the launch of sports betting in Massachusetts.

“I think what I’m most concerned about right now – and I suspect it’s because the rollout of sports betting – is the frequency or intensity of ad distribution, the prevalence,” Judd Stein said. “Content can be great, can’t it? It can be great. But if it just hits us, hits us…and then of course, if sports betting were to be legalized in Massachusetts, that prevalence would just become a very important question.”

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