In what is a first-in-the-nation advertising requirement, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to require sportsbooks to display a “21-and-older” notification anywhere a sportsbook’s logo is visible in or from a sports stadium.
The language of the rule necessitates the age requirement be part of all logos, whether or not there is any mention of sports betting.
This decision comes after a public comment period where sports teams in the commonwealth — as well as sportsbooks — spoke out against the proposal in letters to the commission.
“Are there any other examples in the U.S. where a standalone corporate logo is required to be accompanied by a legal disclaimer?” representatives of the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, and Boston Celtics wrote in a joint letter. “It seems unusual and inconsistent to require ‘must be 21 or older’ language next to a sports betting logo, but not to require any minimum age disclaimers next to alcohol or car logos, when those legal products and services also have minimum legal ages.”
Massachusetts has three major professional sports venues, including two in Boston: Fenway Park (Red Sox) and TD Garden (Bruins, Celtics). The Patriots play in suburban Foxboro at Gillette Stadium.
A representative for Fanatics noted the language could “have the unintended consequence of harming a company’s non-gaming interests,” and a representative for PENN Entertainment — operator of the Barstool brand — noted this could potentially cause “consumer confusion, as the disclaimer could reasonably be interpreted to require a person be 21 years of age or older in order to consume certain digital media or purchase apparel.”
Fanatics, a relatively new entrant into sports betting, is best known as a sports merchandise company. Being required to put a “21+” notice on its logos in or around stadiums could suggest to consumers that anything Fanatics is selling is for those 21 and over.
Contentious discussion, close vote
These points, however, did not sway a majority of the commission, with Commissioners Eileen O’Brien, Nakisha Skinner, and Jordan Maynard voting for the rule. The chair of the commission, Cathy Judd-Stein, and Commissioner Bradford Hill voted against it after a discussion that was contentious at times.
“Maybe I’m a little naive,” said Hill. “Anybody that will see that logo knows that if you’re going to go and do sports wagering that you have to be 21 and older. So I’m not sure they need to put ‘plus 21.’ I’m trying to see what we’re trying to address here.”
In response, O’Brien noted the rule already applies to advertising, and to her, “branding is advertising.”
Later in the meeting, Judd-Stein worried the commission was acting in a “knee-jerk fashion,” to which O’Brien immediately replied, “It’s absolutely not knee-jerk, Madame Chair. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. … I take umbrage at this notion that I’m doing it without thinking about it.”
The rule goes into effect immediately, and operators will have 90 days to comply.
Initially, the proposed rule would have required the “21+” designation on logos that could be seen anywhere in public, but the proposal was revised to include only sports venues.
In other Massachusetts news …
The commission also adopted, by a vote of 5-0, new regulations around what it calls “player management.”
The new guidelines require sportsbooks to offer an array of tools to help players limit themselves. Players can “designate themselves” to be subject to limitations, much like signing up for a voluntary exclusion list. From there, consumers could set limits for individual wagers or for total wagering for a day, week, or month. The bettors can also limit themselves from adding funds to an account once they have reached their betting limit.
Consumers can sign up for limitations on operator platforms, and the new regs allow for operators to add additional limitation options to their menu.