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Keller @ Large: Sports betting targeting college students a big fear for Massachusetts regulators

Keller @ Large: In underage sports betting a big problem in Massachusetts?
Keller @ Large: In underage sports betting a big problem in Massachusetts? 02:22

BOSTON - It's been nearly a year since sports betting was legalized in Massachusetts. But while it's supposed to be an adults-only pastime, are large numbers of underage kids doing it anyway?

Betting by those under 21 is illegal. According to testimony at Monday's meeting of the state Gaming Commission from the sports betting vendors doing business here, it's not happening in significant numbers.

That claim left gaming Commissioner Jordan Maynard gobsmacked. "I just don't believe it's zero. No one's gonna convince me it's zero or even single digits," he said.

He's right to be skeptical, according to an NCAA survey from last spring that found 58 percent of 18- to 22-year-olds have bet on sports. More than six in 10 have seen those ubiquitous ads for sports betting, and 58 percent of them say it made them more likely to bet.

"It is the segment of the gambling industry that has by far the greatest segment of growth," noted Professor Richard McGowan, of Boston College's Carroll School of Management, a prominent expert on the gambling industry. He says the college-age gambler is a lucrative market for them  and also one of the most vulnerable.

"I know students who got in trouble by trying to win money for spring break, and they thought they were going to do it by winning at sports gambling," said McGowan. "Needless to say, they did not."

But while the vendors testifying before the commission seemed somewhat nonchalant about the issue, Commissioner Brad Hill was not. Asked if it was it fair to describe his message to the industry as, "Get your act together on this front or we might have to do it for you," Hill replied, "The answer is yes."

Hill says he wants to educate parents on the potential risks to their kids of sports betting, setting up a familiar cultural showdown between the concerns of parents and regulators and the potent allure of online betting, it's marketing come-ons, and its flashy tech packaging.

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