Children’s exposure to sports betting gambles in Massachusetts

Young people across the Commonwealth were already exposed to sports betting even before it was made legal last month. So what will Massachusetts do to stop children from playing?

Television commercials for sports betting in neighboring Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island regularly air during Red Sox and Patriots games. Attractive social media ads 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 children.

“When you see high-profile athletes and actors promoting these brands — and we’re talking about the Michael Jordans, the Jamie Foxxes of the world, who are well known to kids — it’s a dramatic concern,” Warner argued.

Warner is also concerned about the availability of sports kiosks to place quick bets and the expansion of sports betting at racetracks and casinos, where some teenagers can often pass for the legal age of 21.

Reports from the National Problem Gambling Council 60-80% of high school students say they gambled for money in the past year, making it a top priority for collateral as the state expands access to sports betting.

Warner thinks regulators should pay particular attention to sports betting, which it says is particularly appealing to teenagers. She noted that while most sports betting operators are good at keeping children off mailing lists and directing advertisements away from young people, not all affiliates and vendors linked to these companies are so careful.

“There are related efforts through places like Reddit, or various other platforms, where they have a lot less control,” Warner explained. “These affiliates or vendors have a lot of power to influence kids.”

Research estimates 4-6% of high school students are addicted to gambling, mainly sports betting.

Massachusetts is promoting online tools to help players know when to “say when”, including GameSense and PlayMyWay. But Warner has insisted for now that it’s important to let kids be kids and wait until they’re of legal age before teaching them how to play.

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