Young people in the Commonwealth were already exposed to sports betting even before it was made legal last month. So, what will Massachusetts do to keep kids from gambling?
Television ads for sportsbooks in neighboring Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island air regularly during Red Sox and Patriots games. Enticing ads on social media offer free play, claim to be “risk-free,” and promote gambling as a fun and even useful skill to have.
Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, said more ads will soon be everywhere, and state regulators need to consider the cumulative impact on kids.
“When you see top-level athletes and actors promoting these brands — and we’re talking about the Michael Jordans, the Jamie Foxes of the world, that are well known to kids — that’s of some dramatic concern,” Warner contended.
Warner also worries about the availability of sports kiosks to place quick bets, and the expansion of sports betting at racetracks and casinos, where some teens can often pass for the legal age of 21.
The National Council on Problem Gambling reports 60%-80% of high school students say they have gambled for money in the past year, making them a top priority for safeguards as the state expands access to sports betting.
Warner thinks regulators should pay special attention to esports betting, which she argued is particularly appealing to teens. She noted while most sports betting operators are good about keeping kids off mailing lists and directing ads away from youth, not all affiliates and vendors tied to those companies are as careful.
“There are linked efforts through places like Reddit, or various other platforms, where they have a lot less control,” Warner explained. “These affiliates or vendors, they have a lot of power to influence kids.”
Research estimates 4%-6% of high school students are addicted to gambling, mostly sports betting.
Massachusetts promotes online tools to help gamblers know when to “say when,” including GameSense and PlayMyWay. But Warner urged for now, it is important to let kids be kids, and wait until they are of legal age before they are taught how to gamble.