Back in Boston, Charlie Baker takes aim at youth ‘prop betting’ ahead of March Madness

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NCAA President and former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is back in town for March Madness at TD Garden, and he’s using the occasion to call attention to betting on college sports.

“One out of three student athletes, based on our data, has been harassed by bettors,” Baker said Thursday at the Garden. “One out of 10 college students has a gambling problem.”

Baker told reporters he doesn’t regret signing a sports betting bill into law when he served as governor. That’s in part because the law prohibits collegiate “prop bets,” wagers based on factors other than the outcome of a game, like who will score the first basket, or a player’s stats in a game.

Massachusetts is among 38 states with legal sports betting, Baker said. But along with states including New York, Pennsylvania and Oregon, the commonwealth prohibits prop betting on college athletes.

Despite being illegal in Massachusetts, it’s possible to make bets that are aren’t allowed in one’s state of residence by using a betting app, Baker said.

Legal sports betting “translates into an enormous amount of advertising” that comes at young people, Baker said. An NCAA survey last year found that 63% of those asked had seen or heard ads promoting sports betting.

“It used to be you had to go somewhere to make a bet,” he said, holding up a smart phone. “Now you don’t — it’s right here.”

Baker spoke alongside state gaming officials and Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who took on the broader problem of betting by minors. Campbell said half of middle school students in the state are engaged in some form of gambling.

Sports gaming poses “a serious public health risk, particularly for young people,” Campbell said. “We’re putting an addictive product — gambling — on an already-addictive device, your smartphone.”

Campbell announced a new partnership, the Youth Sports Betting Safety Coalition, joining state officials with the NCAA and Boston’s five major sports teams to tackle betting by minors.

She said the new coalition will look for ways to teach young people about the dangers of gambling. And Boston sports stars could help spread the message, Campbell added, lending more credibility as messengers than state officials could.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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