BOSTON (State House News Service) – Having already owned up to taking illegal bets on a Boston College women’s basketball game and assuring regulators that it had addressed the problem, Encore Boston Harbor in Everett is again under Gaming Commission scrutiny for taking forbidden bets on BC women’s hoops.
Sports Wagering Director Bruce Band told commissioners at the start of Thursday’s meeting that the matter is being vetted by the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau and will be before the commission in greater detail “in the coming week or so.” The commission on Thursday also heard a more in-depth review of similar violations of the state’s new betting law at MGM Springfield — which involved an error labeling Harvard University a school in Connecticut — and announced plans to hold adjudicatory hearings March 14 on the first two violations that came to light, at Encore and Plainridge Park Casino.
Massachusetts law allows bets to be placed on Massachusetts colleges and universities only when the team is playing in a tournament with at least three other participants. Whether to allow any collegiate betting at all was a major sticking point between the House (which wanted all college events open to wagers) and the Senate (which passed a bill prohibiting all college betting) last session, and the in-state school exclusion was a key compromise that got the legalization bill done at the last minute.
Band said that a glitch in the system of Encore’s technology partner GAN Sports allowed the latest BC women’s basketball bets to be placed in the last few days. When he detailed the Everett casino’s first violation for regulators earlier this month, he said that Encore planned to take over the process of assembling the list of events it accepts wagers on from GAN Sports by Feb. 10, and the casino said it “instituted additional measures to ensure compliance moving forward.”
On Thursday, Band said that when “they reviewed the betting catalog and made sure [BC women’s basketball] was turned off, the system automatically turned it back on.” For the time being, he said, Encore has stopped taking any action on NCAA women’s basketball because that’s the “only way they can stop that from being offered.”
An Encore spokesperson said, “Through our audits we identified a programming error in the system as it relates to NCAA women’s college basketball markets and are currently working with our provider on a permanent solution. In the interim, we have locked all NCAA women’s college basketball betting.”
All three sportsbooks open in Massachusetts — Encore, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino — are already under Gaming Commission scrutiny for having illegally accepted wagers on regular-season college basketball games that involved Massachusetts schools within the first few days of legal in-person betting.
Senior Enforcement Counsel Kathleen Kramer shed additional light Thursday on the MGM Springfield violations.
She said the Springfield sportsbook accepted bets on Harvard men’s basketball games played on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. In both cases, the games were available to be wagered upon for more than 20 hours and bettors took advantage of that 28 times. All bets were placed at a kiosk and a cumulative $1,230 was wagered on the two games, she said.
Kramer said that MGM Springfield told the Gaming Commission that the violation “occurred because when Harvard was originally added to the blacklist document under a previous jurisdiction’s requirement of no collegiate sports, it was incorrectly designated as being located in Connecticut, not Massachusetts” and then it “slipped through because of the prior incorrect designation” once sports betting began in Massachusetts.
The Gaming Commission is wrestling with how it should handle such violations as it continues to expand betting options, including with online betting set to launch March 10.
But while the Gaming Commission gave 11 total mobile operators some form of go-ahead to eventually start taking wagers in Massachusetts, it became clear Thursday that the field of operators who launch mobile betting on March 10 will be smaller.
Nine of the operators were approved Thursday for temporary licenses: BallyBet, Barstool Sportsbook (Penn Sports Interactive), BetMGM, Betr, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel and WynnBET. At least two of those nine, BallyBet and Fanatics, have informed the commission that they will not be ready to go on March 10 and plan instead to start operations here in May.
One other operator in the commission’s pipeline, Digital Gaming Corporation USA (Betway), was uncertain about its ability to request a temporary license but plans to soon pay the $1 million licensing fee and formally ask for a temporary license. But that platform does not plan to launch in Massachusetts for another year, commission officials said Thursday.
And the final of the 11 operators that had been on track to take mobile bets in the Bay State, Pointsbet, has let the Gaming Commission know that it will withdraw its application and does not plan to be part of the Massachusetts betting landscape. That would mean that only five of the maximum seven standalone mobile betting licenses allowed by law will be awarded in this initial rollout of sports betting.
“We are very confident in that ability to allow the licensees to launch on the 10th that are ready to go,” Executive Director Karen Wells said Thursday about the March 10 start of mobile betting.
Band added, “Everything seems to be moving forward very smoothly … I don’t really see, at this point, any stumbling blocks.”