Mobile sports betting debuts Friday

It’s a day Matt Kalish has been waiting a dozen years for: the legalization of mobile sports betting in Massachusetts.

“It’s really a nice culmination right in our backyard of everything we’ve been working on for so long,” said Kalish, a Lowell native who co-founded DraftKings in Watertown. “There’s no state that I think will embrace a product like DraftKings Sportsbook more than Massachusetts.”

Friday, DraftKings and other sports betting apps can begin operating in the state, but it appears these companies will face regulatory scrutiny beyond what they’ve already gone through. In a nine-page letter to the Gaming Commission, the Attorney General’s office outlined numerous concerns about the industry. Those were discussed in a virtual conference Thursday.

“We understand and we support the legislation authorizing sports betting,” said J. Patrick Moore, Jr, First Assistant Attorney General. “There’s a population of people who will be negatively affected by mobile sports betting -- who will slide into addiction and possibly face continuing personal, financial and mental health challenges. That population is part of the public our office is duty-bound to represent. We intend to give them a voice.”

The AG’s office outlined several potential issues as things get underway.

“The legislature approved not just sports betting,” said Moore, “but responsible sports betting. We intend to do our part to hold the operators to the safe and responsible part. Among other things, that requires operators to abide by our consumer protection laws, particularly as to the marketing, promotion and even the design of their sports betting apps.”

Some of the troubling possibilities outlined in the AG’s letter: apps that could have addictive elements, using sports ‘experts’ to give betting advice, insufficient operator help for problem gamblers and use of apps by those under the legal age of 21.

That would seem to disqualify most college students from mobile sports betting... or not.

“I think kids these days are pretty smart,” said college senior John Mendizabal. “If a kid has enough initiative he should be able to skirt the law a little bit.”

“I think it’s really easy for students or children in general to just get on and change their age,” said college sophomore Emily Surdacki. “From my past experiences, all they ask is for a date of birth and the year you’re born in. And at what point are they vetting that? So you just change the year and you’re set.”

And if mobile betting sites ask for IDs?

“You have so many fake IDs around, like how are you going to vet those,” said Surdacki.

But Kalish remains confident DraftKings will be able to keep underage players out. “To even operate in this industry requires compliance with a lot of different regulations,” he said. “We have to verify identity and verify that people are of the appropriate age to play.”

Moore said it appears the mobile sports betting industry is already violating regulations, with TV advertisements that offer referral bonuses. And he worries about the ‘breathtaking’ amount of personal data operators will hold.

“They’ll know when and where a customer likes to bet, their favorite sports, their favorite team, their favorite type of wager,” Moore said. “The Commission must put into place strict regulations to make sure that data cannot be used to target customers with notifications and alerts.”

Such notifications and alerts might prompt a gambler looking to cut back, for example, to place a bet anyway.

Moore told the gaming commission: “Our goal, like yours, is compliance.”

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