How Changes To Responsible Marketing Code Impacts MA Sportsbook Ads

Written By Dan Holmes on April 8, 2023Last Updated on April 10, 2023
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In March, the American Gaming Association (AGA) made significant changes to its Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering, which governs its members, including sportsbooks.

How might those revisions impact the way the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) views advertising by sports betting operators in the state?

Less than a month after online sports betting in Massachusetts went live, some observers are questioning the way sports betting ads have blanketed the Commonwealth.

No more ‘risk-free’ terminology

The changes made by the AGA include a ban on members using the term “risk-free” in advertising.

Also, sports betting operators are prohibited from making arrangements with colleges or universities concerning sports betting activity. For example, entering into a deal as the “official sportsbook” of a college or college athletic department is not allowed.

Changes made to the Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering by the AGA do not have the force of law, but they do serve as a mandate for its members, which could be weighed heavily by jurisdictions that regulate the industry.

Earlier in 2023, a bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives that would ban sports betting advertising on television, radio and the internet. That bill has not been sent to the floor for a vote, and its future remains unclear.

No NIL deals between sportsbooks and college athletes

Members will be prohibited from entering into NIL deals with college athletes (Name, Image, Likeness). In an announcement on March 28, the AGA outlined numerous alterations to its marketing code for members, including:

  • Prohibiting college partnerships that “promote, market or advertise sports wagering activity”
  • Prohibiting NIL deals with sportsbooks for amateur and college athletes
  • Adding age restrictions (21+) for any individual featured in sports betting advertising
  • Changing all references to the “legal age of wagering” to “21-plus”
  • Banning the use of “risk free” in sports betting advertising

Will MGC introduce regulations to reflect AGA policy?

Massachusetts regulators worked quickly to get the sports betting market launched in the state. From legalization to launch was six months, a quick process by any standard. The five-person gaming commission led the work to put regulations in place to protect the consumer and the industry. So far, legal sports betting has been a success in Massachusetts.

But there may be room for adjustments to regulations governing the industry. Already, the MGC has altered the way sportsbooks can pay affiliate marketing partners. The state has also barred sports betting operators from writing off their promotional expenses in regards to their revenue and tax responsibility.

Notably, in a March 27 meeting, the MGC voted unanimously to require print or digital sports betting messaging to include specific responsible gambling messaging. That includes a logo for responsible gaming, as well as the 1-800 responsible gambling hotline.

In addition, sports betting advertisers must include the phrase “Play it Smart from the Start” on all advertisements.

“Advertising plays an essential role in migrating consumers away from predatory illegal sportsbooks and into the protections of the legal, regulated market while providing responsible gaming resources,” AGA President Bill Miller said in a statement.

Last month, one day prior to the launch of online sports betting in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe published an editorial warning that consumers in the state would face a “relentless barrage” of sports betting ads. That article, and the opinions of citizens, may hold sway with the MGC in the future should it wish to expand regulatory oversight of sports betting advertising.

Current MA advertising restrictions

Now, in light of the AGA’s decisions to tighten advertising restrictions on members, it’s possible that Massachusetts could pass specific regulations that address the “risk-free” language and the use of people under 21 or their likeness in advertisements.

Last month, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office submitted a letter that outlined its concerns over the nature of sports betting ads and the risk to underage consumers. Massachusetts already has regulations in place to protect college students from sports betting advertising, and protections for underage consumers. Specifically, MA restricts sports betting ads from platforms that are predominantly frequented by people under the age of 21.

READ MORE: How Massachusetts Fits Into DraftKings’ Evolving Advertising Strategy

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a Staff Writer for Play MA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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