Massachusetts Sports Betting Officials Concerned About Gambling Operators Targeting College Students

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Apr 9, 2024 08:00 PM
Massachusetts Sports Betting Officials Concerned About Gambling Operators Targeting College Students

Sports betting in the USA is more popular and, by extension, more accessible than ever before. While this trend has resulted in tax revenue windfalls, it has also created a host of issues. And only a handful of states have been more transparent about these warts than the Massachusetts sports betting market.

In fact, you can count the number of places that have been more proactive and regulatory than The Bay State on one hand. Truthfully, aside from the oversight given to the Ohio sports betting market, sports betting in Massachusetts may be the most effectively regulated in the country.

This does not mean the state is perfect. Far from it. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission continues to raise concerns, both new and familiar, each and every month. In November 2023, for example, they hesitated to approve the launch of ESPN Bet in Massachusetts. Officials worried that the Penn Entertainment online sports betting app wasn’t doing enough to differentiate from the ESPN sports media brand. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved ESPN Bet to launch in the end. But Penn Entertainment—along with ESPN—needed to first clearly map out and justify their marketing and branding plans.

Now, it seems, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is currently focused on underage gambling in The Bay State. To be sure, this isn’t their only focus. They are constantly monitoring and dissecting various issues and investigations. And they have always spotlighted concerns that pertain to illegal and underage gambling as well as problem and addictive sports betting. But underage sports betting in Massachusetts recently came to the forefront during a Gaming Commission meeting that took place at the very end of November 2023

What was it about the meeting that elevated concerns and raised red flags? Let’s find out.

Massachusetts Sports Betting Officials Do Not Buy That Underage Gambling is Under Control

With Massachusetts approaching the one-year anniversary of their sports betting launch, the latest discussions have zeroed in on macro topics. Year-end wrap-ups are all about taking stock of what’s happened and reflecting on how to improve it. At the latest meeting, certain officials noted that they were worried too many sports betting ads and activities ultimately targeted underage college students.

Some tried to quell this consternation. But not every Massachusetts Gaming Commission official was buying it. As Jon Keller wrote for CBS News Boston: “Betting by those under 21 [in Massachusetts] is illegal. According to testimony at Monday's meeting of the state Gaming Commission from the sports betting vendors doing business here, it's not happening in significant numbers. That claim left gaming Commissioner Jordan Maynard gobsmacked. ‘I just don't believe it's zero,’ he said. ‘No one's gonna convince me it's zero or even single digits.’”

People who oversee sports betting regulations are often looped into the operators they’re tasked with monitoring. This means, what they say is taken with a metric ton of skepticism. And rightfully so. 

Agendas run rampant even among compliance officers. But Maynard’s concern seems both genuine. The question: Is it also warranted?

A High Percentage of College Students Admit to Betting on Sports in Massachusetts and Elsewhere

It turns out Commissioner Maynard’s concerns are not only warranted. They’re spot-on. As Mr. Keller’s article continues:

He's right to be skeptical, according to an NCAA survey from last spring that found 58 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds have bet on sports. More than six in 10 have seen those ubiquitous ads for sports betting, and 58 percent of them say it made them more likely to bet. ‘It is the segment of the gambling industry that has by far the greatest segment of growth,’ noted Professor Richard McGowan of Boston College's Carroll School of Management, a prominent expert on the gambling industry. He says the college-age gambler is a lucrative market for them and also one of the most vulnerable.

Sports betting sites in Massachusetts and those in charge of operating them continue to insist the issue is under control. But that NCAA survey clearly paints a different picture. 

And what’s more, Commissioner Maynard is not alone in his concern. 

When asked about the Massachusetts sports betting vendors “nonchalant” demeanor, fellow Gaming Commissioner Brad Hill doubled-down on Mr. Maynard’s concerns. In fact, Mr. Hill went as far as agreeing that the message to retail operators and online sportsbooks in the United States is something along the lines of “Get your act together on this front or we might have to do it for you.” 

This is the definition of a pointed sentiment that leaves no room for alternative interpretation. But will it spark any change?

Could Massachusetts Sports Betting Concerns Incite Industry-Wide Reform?

Words mean only so much, regardless of how strong they sound. If officials believe underage Massachusetts sports betting is a big problem, they shouldn’t just threaten to do something about it. They should actually do something about it.

As for what that “something” is, well, we can’t be sure. More likely than not, it at least begins with placing restrictions on how Massachusetts online sports betting sites and retail operators advertise in the state. It should also include limitations, if not complete erasures, of sponsorship deals between colleges and sports betting operators. 

Going that route opens up a can of worms, though. People can bet on college sports. Student-athletes are now also legally able to financially capitalize on their name, image and likeness. Can the state really prevent retail and online Massachusetts sportsbooks from conducting business with universities and teams that factor into the sports betting industry?

It’s a fair question. And it creates slippery slopes. Some states have taken steps to limit or eradicate financial relationships between sportsbooks and college institutions. For the most part, though, the regulation of these relationships is looser than not.

Still, all it takes is one big market to start a trend. Other states will soon follow, even if it’s only because of external pressures from problem gambling organizations and the federal government. To date, we have not seen measures dramatic enough to jump-start industry-wide advertising and sponsorship reform. But from everything Massachusetts Gaming Commission members have said, The Bay State might just be proactive enough to emerge as the first major domino.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs:

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...

Online Sports Betting may receive compensation if you sign up through our links. Rest assured, we avoid biases and provide honest opinions on sportsbooks. Read more here.