Fewer Young People Than Expected May be Participating in Massachusetts Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Apr 13, 2024 08:00 PM
Fewer Young People Than Expected May be Participating in Massachusetts Sports Betting

Despite initial concerns to the contrary, a recent poll may show that Massachusetts sports betting is not particularly prevalent among the younger demographic in the Bay State.

The study in question was conducted by the CommonWealth Beacon. They waited until online sports betting in Massachusetts was live for an entire year before attempting to see the impact it’s having on younger audiences. The primary question at hand: Has the legalization of sports gambling in the Bay State spurred an intense interest in betting among 18 to 29 year olds?

If you remember, this inquiry ranked among the biggest worries entering the launch of Massachusetts sports betting. Officials in the state were concerned online wagering, specifically, would be so accessible that it grabbed a foothold on the younger demographic—including potentially underaged bettors. We have since seen the Massachusetts Gaming Commission attempt to regulate and, when necessary, discipline online sportsbooks in the United States whenever their business and advertising practices disproportionately reached underaged and college-aged customers.

To be sure, these violations are mostly chalked up to inadvertent errors. But that’s part of the concern. And once again, all comes back to the ease of access. Recently, there’s also been more talk about the ubiquity of sports gambling in the USA and advertisements for it. This is partly why Massachusetts took aim at daily fantasy sports sites for their Pick ‘Em competitions, which officials in (and outside) the Bay State believe to closely mirror traditional prob gambling.

Anyway, the CommonWealth Beacon’s poll apparently shows that the younger generation doesn't access online sports betting sites as frequently as many thought. That’s a good thing on its face. But it also depends on how you interpret the results.

Approximately 10 Percent of Young Adults Partake in Massachusetts Sports Betting

Here is Jennifer Smith of the CommonWealth Beacon with more details on the outlet’s poll:

“One year into legalized sports gambling and growing concern about its impact on the young, a new CommonWealth Beacon/GBH News poll (toplines, crosstabs) doesn’t paint a clear-cut apocalyptic picture. Of the 30 percent of 18- to 29-year olds who say they have placed a sports bet in the last year, most say they only occasionally bet and generally place bets for less than $20. Yet about a fifth of those who bet in the last year said they bet more than once a week, and another fifth said they did so about once a week.

The tenor of these results lies in the eye of the beholder. Marlene Warner, the CEO of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, put it best when she said, “Certainly, it could be worse. But it can most certainly always be better.”

This sentiment rings even truer when looking at the frequency with which sub-demographics of young adults are submitting wagers.

Young Males are Statistically More Likely to Bet on Sports in Massachusetts

According to the CommonWealth Beacon’s poll, males in the 18-to-29 age bracket are roughly twice as likely to participate in Massachusetts sports betting. This trend apparently holds across all forms of gambling—not just sports wagering. Here is the more extensive breakdown, courtesy of Smith:

“The biggest split isn’t on age – 30- to 45-year-olds report more betting than the younger group – but gender. Men said they had placed sports bets at more than twice the rate of women across all age brackets (35 percent vs. 14 percent). Non-white respondents and men between 18 and 29 reported the highest frequency of sports betting, with a quarter of those who placed sports bets in those groups saying they bet more than once a week. The gender divide held across most forms [of] gambling, according to the poll. More men said they played Keno, purchased Mega Million or Powerball tickets, placed a bet in a casino, or bet on horse racing. Women narrowly edged men out in just one gaming vice: 69 percent of women and 66 percent of men said they have purchased scratch or lottery tickets.”

Initially, some experts are expressing concern at the rate young males bet on sports each week in Massachusetts. The primary worry: If these habits are ingrained into their behavior before entering full-on adulthood, will they be equipped to identify, avoid and effectively navigate problem gambling patterns?

That question doesn’t have a definitive answer. However, Warner did tell the CommonWealth Beacon that these Massachusetts sports betting statistics are not unique to the Bay State. The numbers are apparently right in line with findings from national polls.

Concerns Over Sports Gambling Among the Younger Generation Aren’t Going Anywhere

Massachusetts sports betting regulators can take solace in knowing that their market is not inviting more wagering from younger customers than basically anywhere else. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have an issue.

Really, every state has the same issue. In an ideal world, everyone would bet on sports and have a wonderful experience free from problematic and addictive habits. But that’s not how this works.

The legalization of sports betting in Massachusetts and across the United States risks an uptick in underage and problem gambling practices. That’s just a fact, one that’s proven true over and over again. Officials in most cases have ultimately decided the regulation they can provide over the industry beats the risks associated with off-shore sportsbooks and illegal domestic bookie operations. They’re not necessarily wrong. But they also can’t be surprised to see a growing number of young adults accessing online sportsbooks, either.

Completely addressing this issue is impossible. We should, however, expect to see states like Massachusetts place a greater emphasis on limiting sports betting exposure among the younger generation. Does this include more stringent advertisement policies? Educational programs in high schools and colleges and maybe even middle schools? Could it possibly include an adjustment to the legal sports betting age in Massachusetts?

Time will tell. But as this poll shows, while Massachusetts sports betting isn’t having a disproportionate impact on young adults, it’s far from a non-issue, either.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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