Regulators are concerned about national sports betting ads that violate local regulations

Gaming regulators on Monday morning raised concerns that national sports betting advertisements aired on local stations could run counter to future state regulations once the industry launches in Massachusetts.

But national executives and local media officials told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that both broadcasters and sports leagues impose myriad internal regulations that encourage responsible gaming and limit the intensity or saturation of sports betting advertising during professional games.

It’s a potential tension arising from the state’s sports betting statute, which requires the Gambling Commission to regulate advertising in Massachusetts to some degree, including draft rules that “ban any form of advertising, marketing or Prohibit branding that the Commission finds unacceptable or disruptive to the viewing experience at a sporting event.”

Regulators also raised concerns about a potential spate of sports betting advertising, both on traditional platforms and digital spaces, with retail and online betting set to start in late January and early March respectively.

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The potential conflict between national advertising and Bay State rules was raised by both Commissioners Brad Hill, a former state representative from Ipswich, and Eileen O’Brien, a person appointed by Attorney General Maura Healey who previously worked in the Office of the Inspector General. highlighted.

O’Brien asked what would happen if future Massachusetts regulation barred a certain type of advertising that ended up in the feed that a major network sent to a local broadcaster like Boston25, which has a partnership agreement with Fox.

In a hypothetical example Hill uses, government regulation could ban the appearance of a “young celebrity” who “pretends to be our 18-21 year olds” in an advertisement. What happens when a broadcaster or network breaks this rule, Hill asked Boston25 general manager Todd Brown.

“I can’t believe this hasn’t happened in another jurisdiction where a regulation was put in place and a national feed goes into a state that wouldn’t comply with the regulation,” he said. “So far there has to be some kind of experience with it and I’m worried. I hear you say it’s legal to get through, don’t you think? Is that true?”

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That’s true, Brown said, adding that although it retains control over local spots, it’s difficult for his station to limit or ban national network-enabled advertising.

“I’m something of a McDonald’s franchisee, if you will. I’m the franchisee for Fox. And if they want to serve Big Macs, I have to serve Big Macs,” he said. “…I think the NFL and the network are very responsible. But no, as far as the content of these ads and where they are placed, as a local partner I do not have the power to circumvent this.”

But Marquest Meeks, vice president and assistant general counsel for Major League Baseball, said internal policies for the league and broadcast partners often have “significant overlap” with bans put in place by local regulators.

Meeks said MLB rules prohibit things like advertising starring people who are not old enough to gamble and advertising aimed at minors or people who have placed themselves on self-exclusion lists similar to the list maintained by the Gambling Commission.

“We work with industry leaders and experts like that [American Gaming Assoication], our broadcast partners,” he said. “Everyone lays over everyone else’s efforts, to the point where we not only have the belt, we have the suspenders, and we’ve taken a bit of extra string and rope to tighten it as well.”

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And the elusive resolution to Hill’s hypothetical scenario, Meeks says, could be because state law requires the Gambling Commission to consider advertising it deems “unacceptable or disruptive to the viewer experience at a sporting event” during a broadcast .

“Based on our internal research and we have looked after the passage of the law, there is no other state with language that imposes such a burden on the regulator. And so I think it puts the Commission in a difficult position to figure out exactly what that means,” Meeks said.

Casey Clark, vice president of the American Gaming Association, said the gaming industry, sports league executives and broadcasters have all worked together “to proactively and voluntarily set standards.”

“We talk a lot about the sports betting ecosystem and that we’re all working together to make sure we’re doing this right,” he said.

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Aside from the rules governing the details of an ad, commissioner Cathy Judd-Stein said she also has “a real fear” that Massachusetts will be swamped with sports betting ads when the industry takes off.

“We’ve seen some of that in the cannabis industry. I suspect sports betting could be even more intense,” she said.

NESN President Sean McGrail said this is something leagues and broadcasters are “very aware of” and may have been more of an issue five to 10 years ago when “some of the first gaming platforms came online.”

NESN has been “very proactive on this front,” McGrail said, which he says has imposed a limit on how many sportsbook ads can be aired during a professional sports game.

“A very small portion of the inventory would be allowed in the game,” he said. “Overall, I think it’s a lesson I learned about oversaturation years ago. And honestly, we’ve seen it in other categories too. We’ve seen it in the airline industry, where certain airlines would love to buy up inventory… and it became a distraction. So we are very aware of our target group.”

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Jordan Walton of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association said most broadcasters have internal rules dictating how many spots from one industry or advertiser can be aired side-by-side.

“I would guess that most of our stations would still follow their internal rules so you don’t have an MGM, DraftKings and FanDuel spot running back-to-back,” he said. “We do this because our stations have a duty to their listeners and viewers. And teasing a viewer or listener into changing programs is exactly the opposite of what our broadcasters want.”

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