The Massachusetts Gaming Commission came to something of a compromise Monday despite voting unanimously to prohibit sports betting operators from making revenue-share agreements with affiliate marketers. The commission did agree to allow “cost per action” (CPA) partnerships, which means affiliates and operators will be able to continue some deals already in place in the state.
Last month, the MGC granted a waiver allowing operators to partner with affiliates for both revenue-share and CPA deals despite the commission having previously passed a regulation that banned such partnerships. Commissioners were concerned that such agreements would allow for excessive sportsbook advertising, but after operators and affiliates argued that the deals created a pathway for responsible gambling advertising and addressed limited audiences that wanted information about sports betting, the commission waived the ban through April 14.
Monday’s decision paves the way for affiliates — including Sports Handle, which is owed by parent company Better Collective — to partner with operators that pay the affiliates a set rate every time a consumer clicks through on a link to an operator’s platform. Such deals are prevalent across the country, and operators told the MGC in February that they get about 30% of sign-ups from affiliate marketers.
Will small operators be hurt?
The new regulation puts the kibosh on revenue-sharing deals, which may be more costly over time but which can be more attractive to smaller operators as a way to control start-up costs. In a revenue-sharing deal, affiliates are paid a percentage of net revenue generated by the operator from a consumer whom the affiliate sends to an operator. A FanDuel representative in February told the MGC that 90% of its affiliate deals are CPAs.
“If someone is being paid every time they send someone to someone’s door, we should put as many guardrails as possible around that,” Commissioner Jordan Maynard said during discussion.
While the overall cost of a CPA deal is likely less than paying an affiliate a percentage of revenue over time, it could be harder on smaller operators in the short term. The upfront cost of a CPA deal may be unpredictable — will 10 customers or 100 sign up this month? — and a new, small operator might not have the funds available to pay affiliates for an unexpectedly large number of click-throughs. A revenue-share deal would likely mean that the operator is paying a smaller amount of money monthly, albeit over a longer period of time.
Editorial: Since the March launch of mobile sports betting, there’s good reason to question whether the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is doing all it can and should to protect consumers. https://t.co/L6ucWORsO2
— Boston Globe Opinion (@GlobeOpinion) March 27, 2023
In Massachusetts, 10 mobile operators are licensed to offer wagering, though so far, only six have gone live. Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel, and WynnBet launched March 10. Bally Bet, Betr, Betway, and Fanatics are also licensed.
Betr, a microbetting platform owned in part by MMA fighter Jake Paul, is live in Ohio and had plans to launch on the universal date in Massachusetts, but it announced a delay shortly before the statewide launch. Of the licensed-but-not live operators, both Betr and Betway are small operators. Though Fanatics is beta testing its platform in Tennessee and isn’t live anywhere in the world, the company will bring a massive bankroll to its sports betting operation.
Massachusetts becomes the fourth state to limit affiliate partnerships in some way. Illinois also does not allow revenue-sharing deals, while Connecticut does not allow CPA deals. New York’s regulatory agency approved a new rule in February prohibiting revenue-share agreements, subject to a 60-day public comment period before going into effect.
The MGC also discussed what responsible gaming messaging should consist of in various types of advertising. It appeared to agree to limit the number of problem gambling helpline numbers required per advertisement to one, but it also wants operators to include the GameSense logo. GameSense is a responsible gaming tool that educates consumers on time and spending limits and other ways to monitor their play.
In another vote, the commission decided to limit how operators will be allowed to market promotions. The vote came after discussion about whether television sports betting shows should be able to recommend specific bets or picks. Commissioners raised objections to tout-like recommendations, and they voted to prohibit operators and affiliates from discussing specific bets.
Instead, the commission said, operators and affiliates can offer up general promotions for their companies or even suggest that a specific game is worthy of betting on, but they may not recommend making a specific bet.