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Massachusetts Sports Betting: MGC To Examine Wagering Limits

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 13 mins

Massachusetts Sports Betting: MGC To Examine Wagering Limits

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Thursday began what will likely be a long-term discussion concerning state regulations regarding limits placed on wagers by sports books, and the practices operators use in targeting both VIP customers, and potential problem gamblers. 

A customer complaint to the Commission triggered discussion, which was part of the agenda of Thursday's previously-scheduled meeting. The Sports Wagering Division of the MGC examined the house rules of each of the six current operators in the state. 

No action was taken, as the discussion was just that, and the Sports Wagering Division found that each operator was within the regulatory framework by setting its own house rules and terms of service. 

For example, Sports Wagering Director Andrew Steffen cited the following rules posted by DraftKings: 

All bet selections are subject to pre-imposed limits set solely at DraftKings' discretion which may be lower than the limits mentioned in the Sport Specific Limits and/or mentioned elsewhere on DraftKings’ platform. Should this limit be reached, the Authorized Account Holder has the right to ask for it to be exceeded by means of a request effected through DraftKings’ platform. DraftKings reserves the right to accept ((fully or partially) or reject the said request without any prior notice and further explanation.

But Commissioner Eileen O'Brien said this was "the beginning of our conversation" and cited a Wall Street Journal story that focused on credit extended to VIP customers. 

She also asked that each operator provide to the MGC copies of the answers they provide to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The senior senator from Connecticut has asked multiple operators to answer several questions concerning their practices toward VIP customers and their internal marketing toward potential problem gamblers.

In January, Blumenthal introduced the Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment (GRIT) Act, which sets aside federal funds to help prevent, treat, and study gambling addiction in the United States. 

"For me, this is about fundamental fairness and transparency," Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said. She voiced concern that operators are encouraging customers who lose and limiting customers who win. 

"We need to get our operators in here and ask them some hard questions," added Commissioner Brad Hill

NCAA Push To Ban College Props Comes Home

On Thursday, NCAA President Charlie Baker will be back in Boston. Baker has called for nationwide ban on college player prop betting. 

The NCAA men's Sweet 16 is at TD Garden for games Thursday and Saturday. 

“Sports betting issues are on the rise across the country with prop bets continuing to threaten the integrity of competition and leading to student-athletes getting harassed,” Baker said Wednesday in a statement posted on social media. "The NCAA has been working with states to deal with these threats and many are responding by banning college prop bets.”

Baker will appear with Hill and other officials to make an announcement regarding youth gambling - especially concerning those between 18-21.  

When Baker was governor of Massachusetts, he signed the Sports Wagering Act into law in August of 2022. Massachusetts was the second state to specifically prohibit college prop wagering when enacting sports betting, following Colorado. 

Ohio, Vermont and Maryland have joined the Bay State in recently prohibiting college prop wagers, citing harassment of athletes, coaches, and officials.

Vermont banned college props just two months after coming on line in January.

Ohio and West Virginia have also passed legislation that would ban gamblers who make abusive or threatening statements toward players, coaches, or officials.  

New Leadership At The MGC

New MGC executive director Dean Sepra served as deputy chief of staff for operations and administration for then-Gov. Baker. He replaces Karen Wells, who left the position earlier this year. 

This week, Jordan Maynard took over as interim chair of the commission following the retirement of Cathy Judd-Stein. Gov. Maura Healey weighs on naming the replacement for MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein. She announced her retirement will be effective on Thursday. Judd-Stein joined the MCG as chair five years ago and led the Commission as it implemented legal sports betting in the Commonwealth. 

In the first year of online and retail sports betting, the state has exceeded all revenue projections and has collected $118.56 million in total taxes and assessments. When the Sports Wagering Act of 2022 was signed into law, the state projected sports betting would bring in between $60-70 million per year. 

Judd-Stein's stewardship has been evidenced during MGC meetings, which can extend at times into 5 or 6 hours. She has been outspoken in her drive for consensus whenever possible. And had stated often her role is one to protect the consumers of the Bay State first and foremost. 

The two final candidates for the executive director position, Clinton Dick and Sepra, interviewed with the MGC on Monday. Judd-Stein excused herself from the process because she was leaving this week.

Licensees Renewed For 2024

The MGC voted on February 29 to renew the one-year, temporary licenses for the seven remaining online sportsbook operators in the Bay State through 2024. 

They are: 

Category 1 (Tethered To A Casino) 

Category 3 (Untethered)

Bally Bet holds a Category 3 license renewed for 2024 but has yet to launch in Massachusetts. 

This leaves 8 unused online operator licenses available. Books can partner with either a casino operator, a parimutuel operator or go it alone. License fees are $1 million per year.

The one-year temporary retail betting license for Plainridge Park Casino was also renewed. The other retail sportsbooks in the state - at Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield - were granted 5-year, permanent licenses last year. 

The two parimutuel operators eligible for retail sports betting licenses in the state - Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park - have yet to formally apply for their licenses despite being eligible for more than a year. 

WynnBET, Betr Cease Operations 

Massachusetts Sports Betting: MGC To Examine Wagering Limits 1

Betr ceased operations in Massachusetts on February 16. 

Betr launched as a start-up in 2022 and is backed by social media star and fighter Jake Paul. Betr was seen as an outlier in the highly-competitive Massachusetts sports betting market because it focused on player-based props and other micro-betting wagers.

"I really appreciated your product and your innovations," MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said during the MGC's meeting on February 14. Judd-Stein has announced she will be retiring from her position, effective March 21. 

WynnBET shut down its online operations in Massachusetts on February 23. Its detailed cessation plan was approved by the MGC on Tuesday. WynnBET said last week that 75% of its futures wagers have been settled with either a straight cash payout or a fair-market value payout on the outstanding bet. It has contacted all of its patrons with such bets. 

Users of both sites have 30 days after they cease operation to withdraw any remaining funds. Checks will subsequently be mailed to the most recent address on record. 

Encore Boston Harbor Sr. Vice President and General Counsel Jacqui Krum told the MGC earlier this month that the WynnBET retail sportsbook in Everett will be operated and managed by the casino. It will no longer receive any technological or marketing support from WynnBET. 

"It will be a seamless transition," Krum said.  

It is not known if the book will be rebranded. 

"Right now the plan for Encore Boston Harbor is to maybe change the name, or maybe not change the name," Stein said. 

RELATED: ESPN BET Massachusetts Promo Code BOOKIES

Massachusetts Handle Numbers Hit $6.15 Billion

Numbers through February 2024 released by the total legal sports betting handle in the Bay State at $6.1561 billion. The $5 billion mark was surpassed early in the New Year.

The February 2024 betting numbers showed that the state collected $10,514,990.92 in sports betting-related tax revenue in January. This means the state has collected more than $118.56 million in taxes and registration fees from sports betting after 12 months of retail betting and 327 days of mobile wagering. 

Of the total taxed amount for all operators, 45% is allotted to the General Fund, 17.5% to the Workforce Investment Trust Fund, 27.5% to the Gaming Local Aid Fund, 1% to the Youth Development and Achievement Fund, and 9% to the Public Health Trust Fund.

Bally Bet, which also paid $1 million last year for a license it has yet to use, will renew in Massachusetts and eventually launch there but only after focusing on operations in Rhode Island, Interim Internal Enforcement Bureau Director Caitlin Monahan said on January 4.

Four mobile operators (BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, Fanatics, and ESPN BET) are operating under "tethered" licenses with one of the three casinos in the state.

In addition, both Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park have retail and mobile licenses available but have yet to find operators or partners for any of them. A deal between Raynham and Caesars collapsed last summer. 

Suffolk Downs is said to be close to a deal with DraftKings to open a retail sports book in the Causeway Street area near TD Garden. 

When asked about the available licenses in Massachusetts, MGC Chair Cathy Stein told the Boston Herald in late December they are the result of “assessments being made by the industry and operators.” Bet365 last year decided not to execute its application for a license because of excessive regulatory concerns, it said. 

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Big Numbers In Massachusetts Statewide

In February, the state's legal sports betting handle was $542,480,675.79. 

Overall, the state's mobile and retail sports betting handle in 2023 and the first 2 months of 2024 was $6,166,690,315.11. The sportsbooks' taxable net adjusted gross was $594,869,475.75, with operators paying $106,468,781.19 in state taxes.

When sports betting became law in 2022, supporters estimated it would generate between $60-70 million in tax revenue for the Commonwealth. 

Mobile betting began in the Bay State on March 10 of last year, while retail betting began on January 31.

PENN Entertainment's launch of its ESPN BET branded app has shown encouraging results, according to revenue numbers released in several states. 

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission reported that ESPN BET's handle in January 2024, its first full month of operation, was $45,405,487.97. The book's overall market share was 6.96% of the Bay State's overall handle. 

That means ESPN BET held as the No. 3 online book in the Bay State in January in terms of betting handle, behind only DraftKings and FanDuel. ESPN BET beat out both BetMGM and Caesars, which have been active since mobile betting began in March. 

PENN officially launched ESPN BET on the afternoon of November 14. 

DraftKings Dominates In Home State  

DraftKings has led the state in online handling since mobile betting began in March. The Boston-based book saw its handle in Janaury stand at  $269,776,978.36 on a hold of 11.66%.

FanDuel remained a distant second with $158,852,334..54 in total handle while grabbing a 9.08% hold. .

On the retail side,  Plainridge Park led Encor Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield with $5,595,948.82 in handle, 

Suffolk Downs, Raynham Seek Category 2 Partners

Suffolk Downs may be considering a downtown Boston site for its retail sportsbook near TD Garden. Its owners have not announced any plans, or even if they plan to partner with any outside operators. The former thoroughbred racing operator has been linked to BetRivers but could also partner with DraftKings to give the company a retail site in its home state. Suffolk has yet to submit its application.

After Caesars Sportsbook pulled out of its deal to run a sports book at Raynham Park last summer, the facility's owners Massasoit Greyhound Association will not be getting a sports betting license until they land a new partnership. 

Caesars terminated its operating lease agreement with the owners of Raynham Park and withdrew its application for the MGC to run the sportsbook at the former greyhound racing facility south of Boston in August. It would be the fourth retail betting site in the state.

The gaming commission voted to remove Christopher Carney from MGA's application. He is the son of longtime Raynham Park owner George Carney. That was a pivotal move given the concerns Christopher Carney's presence on the license raised with regulators. 

Details of the MGC investigation into the Carney family found several violations cited by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection concerning the handling and disposal of hazardous and/or construction-related materials were committed by companies operated by the Carney family. Those violations and the subsequent fines were not initially disclosed during the MGC's investigative process. 

Neither Caesars nor representatives of the Carney family have responded to requests for comment. 

The former greyhound track and current simulcasting facility located south of Boston first opened in 1940. It was purchased by George Carney in 1966.

How Sports Betting In Massachusetts Works

The law allows Massachusetts betting apps to serve those over 21 and physically present in the state.

Here’s an outline of the new law’s highlights:

Category Final Law
Retail Operator Tax15%
Mobile Operator Tax20%
Est. State Annual Revenue$60M
Minimum Age21
Betting Appsup to 15
College BettingOut of State teams*
Credit CardsProhibited from funding accounts
Debit CardsPermitted to fund accounts
Advertising LimitsNone
Licensing Fee$5M for 5 Years

College wagering for in-state schools is allowed for teams participating in tournaments that feature four or more teams, which would include the NCAA Hockey and Basketball Tournaments, ACC and Ivy League championships, and ice hockey’s Beanpot

History Of Massachusetts Betting

The Massachusetts Lottery celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. Gambling legislation in Massachusetts goes back to 1719, when the first laws were passed to prohibit lotteries. The first state lottery in Massachusetts was legalized in 1745 before it was outlawed again in 1833.

Parimutuel betting on horse and dog racing was legalized in 1934. Suffolk Downs was a mainstay on the national thoroughbred racing circuit until its final race in 2014. Greyhound tracks in Massachusetts included sites in Taunton/Raynham, Revere, and Plainfield. A 2009 law outlawed dog racing in the state.

Plainridge Park Casino in Plainfield hosts a limited harness racing season. Foxboro Raceway operated harness racing from 1947 to 1997 on what is now the current site of One Patriot Place, adjacent to Gillette Stadium.

Illegal betting has been a part of the fabric of the Bay State for centuries. Illegal bookmakers remain commonplace. A point-shaving scandal rocked Boston College in 1978-79 and was a real-life connection to the movie “Goodfellas".

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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.