The Green Monster has opened a big can of worms for sports betting operators and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). At a previous meeting, the commissioners discussed the presence of BetMGM branding on the iconic left field wall and then on Tuesday discussed a new regulation that would potentially require even a logo of a sports betting brand to include language that the business is only open to those over the age of 21.
The proposed regulation reads as follows:
“Advertising, marketing, branding, and other promotional materials published, aired, displayed, disseminated, or distributed by or on behalf of any Sports Wagering Operator shall state that patrons must be twenty-one years of age or older to participate, providing the branding consisting only of a display on an Operator’s logo or trademark shall not be required to comply with this provision unless it is or is intended to be displayed on signage or a fixed structure in a location where it is likely to be viewed by persons under 21 years of age.”
O’Brien worried about predatory branding luring in young customers
The legal team that drafted the language admitted this was a tough endeavor, as the intent was not to require something like a business card or a branded t-shirt to feature 21+ language but to also include examples like giant logos at sporting venues.
In the end, the commissioners agreed to extend the waiver to complete these regulations to seek more feedback from operators as well as the responsible gambling community to see what best practices would be and if there is a version of the language that might be more effective.
However, the commission was split on just how necessary such a measure was. Commissioner Eileen O’Brien was fervently in the camp of adopting what would be a landmark regulation in the US and explained her reasoning very clearly.
“We are inundated with complaints about advertising in general. I have a lot of concerns when I watch the interplay of branding and crossing over between things and getting people loyal when they’re younger, and I said this when the Betr application came up, getting people loyal to the brand when they’re under the age and getting an affinity and affiliation to something,” O’Brien said. “I do not think it’s a huge ask to put 21+ on it. And if you don’t want to differentiate so there’s a vagueness to your branding that says, ‘Well, it could be my sweatshirts, and it could be my gaming’, then slap 21+ on it or differentiate your branding. And if you’re not doing it, then you’re doing exactly what I’m concerned about, which is arguably being predatory with your branding and trying to blur the lines between how much of it is under 21 and how much of it is over.”
Barstool and Fanatics were mentioned in addition to Betr as examples of companies whose brand extends far beyond sports betting and who, as O’Brien saw it, are using that reach to bring in customers before they are of legal age to bet.
Commissioner Jordan Maynard was the other member of the five-person panel who leaned towards approving the language.
“Logos are a form of advertisement in their own way and you are creating brand loyalty and you’re getting eyes on it. I don’t have a great example in my head but I do think some additional language has to be here because I do want to make sure on those close to 50/50 situations that the operator err on the side of either having the 21+ language or removing the sign,” he said.
Some commissioners think logo rule is a step too far
Commissioners Bradford Hill and Nakisha Skinner as well as Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein expressed concern that this step was a bridge too far. Judd-Stein pointed out that signs and logos promoting the state’s casinos as well as lottery have been present in similar situations and no discussions like this had ever come up. Skinner and Hill were curious what the standards were for alcohol brands in similar positions within sporting events.
Massachusetts remains one of the most cautious groups of regulators when it comes to sports betting expansion however, up to this point, they have yet to put forth a major advertising regulation that is not already in place in at least one other jurisdiction.
One point that did come up in the discussion is that this logo rule would only impact venues where 25% or less of the audience are children, as other regulations would stipulate the logos be covered up for events like Disney on Ice, where a professional sports arena is being used for a children’s event.