Editor’s note: The views in this piece are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of SBC.
It is not often that a hyper-local gambling hearing can captivate the attention of so many people, but the saga of Raynham Park in Massachusetts drew plenty of attention over the past month.
For those unaware of the Raynham Park situation, here’s the rundown. The facility, which first opened as a dog track in 1940, converted to a simulcast facility in 2009 when the state abolished dog racing. It is also eligible to offer retail and online sports betting if approved for a license.
That “if approved for a license” part is where things get sticky. Literally.
As part of the evaluation process for any major gaming license, the regulators evaluate not just the property but the major players involved in the organization, deemed “key stakeholders”. The definitions of a key stakeholder vary, but in general, people who have an influential impact on the organization and its operators tend to fall under that banner.
Enter Chris Carney.
Raynham Park has always been a family-owned business, helmed by Chris’s father, George Carney. And, if you look around both local and national media, the business seems to run in the family, as Chris is often credited as the “owner” of the facility.
According to Raynham Park though, Chris Carney doesn’t own anything. As they describe it, he is a glorified janitor.
Carney himself spoke before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission this month and said he was not paid and his role included day-to-day duties like “unclogging toilets.” Carney’s attorney adamantly stated that Carney may have assisted with construction but he never actually managed operations, particularly when it came to pari-mutuel wagering.
You might be wondering why a company is taking what appears to be their official spokesperson and depicting them as a groundskeeper.
The answer is sludge.
One of Carney’s other projects, a waste management group called Earthsource, a company the state fined $10,000 for dropping 300 truckloads of Class 1 sludge (which I can only assume is sludge you are allowed to vend both online and in-person) into nearby wetlands.
It’s the kind of infraction that could prevent you from obtaining a gaming license as a key stakeholder. And if one key stakeholder is unsuitable, it could potentially torpedo the entire license.
Accordingly, Raynham Park asked for Chris Carney to be removed as a key stakeholder from the license. And, ever since then, the idea that Chris Carney was ever in charge of anything besides the parking lot at Raynham Park is something Raynham Park representatives insist is patently false.
This is where we hit a crossroads. Either one of two scenarios seems to be happening:
- Chris Carney was indeed a major influencer of business operations at Raynham Park but, because they need to scrub that sludge off the license, they are removing him from the fold. They did this even though he was, at one point, slotted for a potential position as COO for the new sportsbook, something that was submitted on documentation to the MGC but later explained by Raynham Park as a plan that never moved forward. They are now downplaying his involvement in an attempt to save sportsbook plans that are rapidly disintegrating before their eyes.
- Chris Carney is your real-life equivalent of Tommy Boy. A bumbling, unproductive son of the owner who is humored and tolerated and even is allowed to pretend to be an important decision-maker but in reality doesn’t collect a salary and just helps keep the building up to code.
After 18 hours worth of hearings on various tangents within this topic, it is tough to say which version is more distressing. The former would suggest that in a highly regulated environment, it is surprisingly easy to justify away someone’s involvement in an organization.
The New York Times noted how the MGC and other regulators faced a similar quandary with Penn Entertainment and Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who consistently managed to dodge being evaluated as a key stakeholder of Barstool Sportsbook. Penn went so far as to create loan-out companies for its major Barstool creators, meaning the company could legitimately go to regulators and say “David Portnoy isn’t even an employee of Penn.”
In the meantime, Portnoy would speak on his podcast about making decisions about promotions, brag about his piles of Penn stock, and spend day in and day out marketing and promoting the brand in a way that the end user would be completely unaware he is not part of the company.
On the flip side, if the story Raynham Park tells of Carney’s involvement is true, they literally let the guy unclogged the toilets parade around not just to media but to regulators and other businesses, as the owner of the business.
MGC Commissioner Eileen O’Brien summed up just how disconcerting this is during one of the meetings around Carney’s suitability.
“The striking thing to me is that the argument for disregarding [Carney] would be that the company was so derelict that it would allow someone to represent themselves and that was fine with them,” she noted.
O’Brien was the lone dissenting vote though, as the other four commissioners approved the request to remove Carney from the license. However, they did do so with some conditions to ensure that Carney remains completely removed from operations. After all, George Carney is 95 years old, so certainly the succession plan could completely upend the notion that the younger Carney is just a guy who was around in case a lightbulb needed changed.
Lest you be too concerned, the potential for Raynham Park to get a license remains very up in the air. While the MGC is held to extremely high standards and can be somewhat bound by the law in terms of what it can do, both bet365 and now Caesars have told Raynham Park, “thanks, but no thanks” when it comes to partnering. The track had hope of bringing Caesars back into the fold though.
Raynham Park hoped to emerge from the…er…sludge…with at least some sort of preliminary suitability determination, but without an operator to actually power the sportsbook, even the MGC had to draw the line somewhere.
“With the removal of the trust and the removal of Chris Carney as qualifiers, it still proposes a huge challenge for us to go into the marketplace after two days of public hearings about questions on MGA suitability and find a partner,” attorney for Raynham Park Jed Nosal told the commissioners.
While I certainly can find sympathy for Raynham Park, I cannot help but respond to that statement with one word:
A gaming commission may not be able to do as much about the shell game companies play with their key stakeholders, but at some point, someone understandably needs to ask if this is a group they want to be in the sports betting business with. You may be able to say that the chef is not a key stakeholder in a restaurant, but if you want a permit to operate, you are going to need the ovens first.