Derek Helling for Bookies.com

By Derek Helling | | 3 mins

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Massachusetts Sports Betting Muddled by Stakeholder Query

Massachusetts Sports Betting Muddled by Stakeholder Query
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In a state that’s already riddled with gridlock over the issue of sports betting, the injection of a new stakeholder into the conversation has complicated things further.

Delaware North, the hospitality company that is chaired by Boston Bruins chairman Jeremy Jacobs, wants in on the legal sports betting landscape if the state should go that way. Questions about whether that would create too much of a conflict of interest have risen with that assertion.

There’s no question about Delaware North’s infrastructure. The company already operates multiple casinos and through its management of the TD Garden, where the Bruins as well as the NBA’s Boston Celtics play their home games, has a finger on the pulse of sports fans. Delaware North certainly has the ability to offer sports betting to fans.

The benefit to Delaware North should they be able to offer legal sports betting to fans is also apparent. It’s another amenity, another lure, another carrot to dangle in front of people who are looking to place wagers.

The most profitable venues like the TD Garden are successful at driving traffic to their doors for reasons superfluous to games played by their anchor tenants. It’s another way to ensure that even those who aren’t interested in Bruins or Celtics games, per se, would step foot inside the premises anyway and open their wallets.

What’s also apparent is the potential conflict of interest.

Delaware North Affiliation Sparks Questions

State Rep. Kenneth I. Gordon clearly stated the cause to pause such an affiliation.

“The concern is that you have the owner of a team whose employees, the players, essentially report to him,” Gordon told the Boston Globe. “And now if he gets the opportunity to engage in a betting interest, he would have a stake in making a profit through betting on things that he can control. It’s a real issue.”

To that end, Delaware North has made it clear that it does not intend to operate a sportsbook itself, but rather contract with a third party, similar to how most companies who operate facilities like the TD Garden contract with vendors to provide concessions and security. Delaware North’s “share of that profit,” so to speak, would come from a rent-type situation and wouldn’t be dependent on the outcomes of wagers in theory.

There are even more thorough steps that can be taken to avoid perceptions of ethical issues. Delaware North’s sports betting partner could be barred by the state from accepting wagers on Bruins and Celtics games specifically.

Even more restrictive but prudent in maintaining an appearance of integrity, all NBA and NHL games could be off-limits for the sportsbook inside TD Garden, though that likely wouldn’t be a popular restriction for fans in the Garden looking to wager on their favorite teams.

Integrity Assurances Still Key

The counterbalance to taking measures to ensure integrity is that a big part of the entire motivation to create a legal sports betting framework is to eliminate the “black market.” If the legal sportsbook at one of the state’s most popular sporting venues can’t accept wagers on any games played in two of the four biggest professional sports leagues in North America, that’s giving the “illegal” channels an advantage.

In order for people in the Bay State who are currently wagering on sports to change their habits, there has to be some incentive to do so or sufficient deterrent that makes continuing their current course painful.

All these considerations are extraneous to the issue which was already causing the state’s potential legalization of sports betting to move along at a rate of success similar to Pablo Sandoval’s batting average during his stint with MLB's Boston Red Sox .

In over a year since PASPA was overturned by the US Supreme Court, a bill hasn’t reached the full House or Senate floor in Massachusetts, even as similar measures advance in neighboring states. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed his own legislation, but that has languished in committees for months with no sense of urgency to move on it displayed by any of the lawmakers involved.

In a state where the legislature is seemingly treating sports betting as a powder keg that they would rather pretend doesn’t exist, the insertion of Delaware North as a stakeholder could legitimize the fears such legislators have about the potential ills of legal sports betting.

Perhaps from a positive perspective, Delaware North throwing its hat in the ring could make legislators also realize that sports betting is happening whether they legalize it or not and it’s foolish for the state not to benefit from it. Time will tell, and that’s something the Commonwealth’s elected officials seem convinced they have an abundance of.