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Sportsbooks Shun Massachusetts Roundtable On Betting Limits

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 7 mins

Sportsbooks Shun Massachusetts Roundtable On Betting Limits

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Every legal Massachusetts retail and mobile sportsbook currently in operation chose to skip a public roundtable Tuesday set up to discuss the issue of betting limits being placed on winning players. 

BetMGM, PENN/ESPN BET, DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars, and Fanatics all informed the MGC between Friday and Monday that they would not attend the first-of-its-kind public discussion. As did Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield. Plainridge Park Casino is owned by PENN. 

This could eventually lead to a showdown between the sports books and the lone body legally obliged to oversee them. Or push the Commission to simply add regulations governing this practice without the full input of the operators. 

"This was not a good use of our time today," Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said. 

Commissioner Brad Hill spoke of his "anger" over the operators not showing up. "There was a lot more information we could and should have gotten today," Hill said. 

The operators all voiced concerns about some of the information in a meeting such as this being publicly revealed. 

At the start of the meeting, Interim MGC Chair Jordan Maynard reiterated the body's desire to find out more information on this practice, but was also chagrined that the operators chose not to attend. MGC legal counsel Todd Grossman added that he does not believe the MGC could legally discuss this issue in a closed session, citing the state's public record laws. 

Maynard said "fundamental fairness" remains the MGC's concern. 

Public Comments Blast Double-Standard 

"There's been a lot of complaints about individuals not having communication from operators," Skinner said. "That's concerning to me," 

"Individuals can bet thousands of dollars," she added, "but when they start to win, they're shut off." 

Of the operators, she added "It has to be more than this sort of 'trust us' approach." 

The MGC received 59 comments from members of the public. Many voiced sentiments similar this one: "I believe the current environment where the books advertise and attract players with promotions to get them hooked and then only allow continued bets from players who lose a lot is not sustainable and is not good for the state of Massachusetts. To prey on certain gamblers for larger amounts and then limit other gamblers to $3 bets is just ridiculous." 

One patron said he cashed $13,500 on a $375 wager on any non-QB throwing a touchdown pass in Super Bowl 58. 

The +3500 ticket cashed when San Francisco WR Jauan Jennings hit Christian McCaffrey with a 21-yard TD pass in the second quarter. 

This bettor, who asked to remain anonymous, had no limits on his FanDuel account prior to the Super Bowl. Since that hit, his wagers have been limited to $50. 

The same customer has been limited at ESPN BET and DraftKings. Bookies.com has seen multiple betting slips confirming these wager limits. 

A representative of Bally's, which plans to launch in Massachusetts soon, did speak at the roundtable, but did not offer any specific details of its policies in terms of limiting bettors. 

Sportsbooks Cite 'Sensitive Business Information'

Sportsbooks Shun Massachusetts Roundtable On Betting Limits 1

Each operator who chose not to attend cited company privacy concerns. 

"After careful consideration, DraftKings decided not to participate in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission roundtable regarding wagering limits, because among other things, any meaningful discussion on wagering limits would necessarily involve the disclosure of DraftKings’ confidential risk management practices and other commercially sensitive business information. DraftKings looks forward to working with the Commission to explore alternative ways to contribute to this discussion, while preserving the confidentiality of that information," Boston-based DraftKings said in a statement. 

Other books offered a similar reply to the MGC. 

"We do not believe that we can have a meaningful discussion in a public forum about our wager limits and risk management processes. Risk management, similar to trading (i.e., setting prices) is a core part of our business and our value proposition as a sportsbook, and it is critical for FanDuel to maintain confidentiality over our proprietary systems. We respectfully request the opportunity to meet privately in Executive Session to discuss these matters and provide the level of information necessary to properly understand our approach," Fan Duel Vice President, Product and New Market Compliance Cory Fox wrote to the MGC in an email on Saturday. 

PENN Entertainment, the parent company of Plainridge Park Casino and the operator of the ESPN BET sportsbooks, told the MGC on Monday that "it is unable to participate in a public meeting regarding this topic due to the competitively sensitive and proprietary nature of PENN’s risk and trading information."

PENN did offer answers to five questions the MGC had posed to operators. 

There are no rules or regulations that prohibit customer limits for any reason. 

"A law or regulation prohibiting or limiting operators’ ability to allow limits would lead to a large reduction in the amount of wager opportunities offered, reduced limits for all patrons (rather than just individual patrons who are manipulating or abusing the system), less sports and leagues available to wager on, and potentially, a reduction in available operators entirely. The typical, recreational bettor would experience a vast reduction in betting options if such a law or regulation were put into place. The result would be a less competitive product offering for the customer and reduced revenues for the Commonwealth," wrote Samantha Haggerty, Deputy Chief Compliance Officer, Regulatory Affairs Counsel for PENN on Monday.  

Operators Say Limits On Winners Are 'Sporadic' 

Multiple books contacted for this story would not discuss player limits on the record. No licensed book in Massachusetts has yet to make it publicly known how many bettors have been limited because they won, and more importantly, the criteria used in making the decisions to do so. 

Speaking on background, operators say stories such as this are “sporadic” and more a creation of social media as opposed to wider trends. They argue – at the same time – that the effect these players have on the books is strong enough to negatively impact revenues but there aren’t enough of them for it to be a concern for the public or regulators. 

They argue limits are necessary to help maintain profitability. And they cite their user agreements, which give them wide latitude in terms of refusing wagers, or placing limits on the dollar amount of wagers. 

Player limits, long common to known sharps in Las Vegas, wasn’t on the radar of any legislators or regulators since sports betting was cleared to go nationwide outside of Nevada by the Supreme Court’s decision in the PASPA case in 2018. 

Next Steps Unclear. 

Each operator in the state was asked to answer the following: 

  1. Please detail how and why a patron may be limited on your platform, including how you may limit patrons on an individual basis.
  2. Please explain the experience of a patron once they become limited. 
  3. What are the responsible gaming implications if patron limits are more heavily regulated? 
  4. What would be the impacts to the industry if allowing limits on individual patrons was prohibited or limited by law or regulation? 
  5. What are other jurisdictions and/or other sports books doing?

There was not going to be any action taken by the Commission on Tuesday. 

The Commission will have to reformulate its strategy to get the operators to discuss the issue. It's unlikely the books helped their cause Tuesday. 

If the MGC decides any rule changes are necessary, it will propose a regulation to affect those changes. 

Once that wording is agreed upon, a public hearing will be held on the specific regulation. 

After that, a final vote would be made. 

Currently, the Commission has just four members since the replacement for Cathy Judd-Stein, who retired in March, has yet to be named. 

Tie votes lose. So any new rules proposal would still need the vote of three members in the normally five-member body. 

Expect Some Changes On Limits In The Future

In terms of the substance, it’s doubtful that the status quo will remain in place where operators are allowed to limit bettors without warning, explanation, or recourse. 

The MGC prides itself on being patron-focused, whether those patrons bet at a casino, at a parimutuel site, or via a licensed sportsbook. 

The basic issue of “Why do you limit players when they win, but not when they lose?” will be a tough ask for operators.

Tuesday, the issue of limits on problem gamblers was also discussed. Commissioner O'Brien said this, too, should be a concern of the MGC and asked one of the roundtable speakers, Brianne Doura Schawohl, to provide examples to the body. 

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.