Sportsbooks skip MA regulatory discussion over limiting bettors

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Operators surprised disappointed and, in their own words, even angered the five commissioners of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) when they bowed out of a scheduled public roundtable on the topic of limiting bettors.

Bally’s lone operator to appear on MGC roundtable

Bally’s was the only operator to take part in the debate, sending Director of Compliance Justin Black as a representative. He was unable to comment on the practices of the company’s platform provider, Kambi, when it came to pricing, but did assure the commissioners that any regulation limiting the pricing options of operators would result in a more negative overall experience for all of the operator’s customers when Bally Bet does launch in the state later this year.

The other panelists who did attend included industry consultants Dustin Gouker and Brianne Doura-Schawol as well as professional bettor Captain Jack Andrews (pseudonym) and the MGC’s own Director of Research and Responsible Gambling Mark Vander Linden.

The group offered insights on price limiting and generally encouraged the commission to look at the data available to them about how to differentiate between problem gamblers, VIPs, sharp bettors and other categories of bettors.

At the end of the session though, the commissioners seemed more preoccupied with who did not attend than the words of those who did.

Commissioners called session a waste, said they are “angry”

“I have to admit the discussion was not as meaningful as I hoped it would be and there’s something quite not right about asking you to speak on behalf of our sportsbooks here in Massachusetts,” noted Commissioner Nakisha Skinner.

“I share in Commissioner Skinner’s, I think frustration, and I will go so far to say anger that I have today for not being able to get a lot more information that I thought we would be able to get today to start this conversation,” added Commissioner Bradford Hill.

Most every operator submitted an email offering to participate in a discussion but only if the parts of the discussion related to how limiting is done happen in executive session. In the past, MGC has regularly and liberally allowed for executive sessions, including several instances in which operators similarly invoked concerns around trade secrets and proprietary information.

The meeting addressed that concern early on, with Interim Chairman Jordan Maynard noting that they did not believe the commission had the legal latitude to allow such closed-door discussions.

MGC said executive session on limiting discussion was not possible

“We have reviewed this matter and there is no clear and safe way to enter into executive session in these circumstances to discuss this particular conversation. Specifically, there is no particular section of the executive session law that covers the facts and circumstances of this matter and there is really no section of the public records law that could be made use of to enter into executive session comfortably,” added MGC General Counsel Todd Grossman.

With executive session not an option, the operators all reiterated that it would be difficult to participate in the roundtable. Land-based operator Encore Boston Harbor sat out since, to them, the focus of the conversation seemed to be online operators. MGM Springfield directed the MGC to BetMGM, which operates the venue’s retail sportsbook on its behalf.

Online operators all offered to participate but only if executive session was an option.

“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,” FanDuel Vice President of Product and New Market Compliance Cory Fox wrote in an email.

Locally-based operator DraftKings offered a similar statement but also said it was important the MGC consult with operators before changing anything.

“As the leading sports wagering operator in Massachusetts, DraftKings believes that its perspective would be helpful to any policy discussion about wagering limits and it would welcome the opportunity to further educate the Commission on this topic,” a DraftKings letter read.

“However, any meaningful discussion on wagering limits would necessarily involve disclosure of the company’s confidential risk management practices and other commercially sensitive business information.”

Penn only operator to address the five questions posed by MGC

Penn Entertainment was the only operator to provide written answers to each of the five questions presented during the round table. The group offered the following explanation about how they limit:

“Per the house rules of both Plainridge Park Casino and Penn Sports Interactive previously approved by the Commission, PENN reserves the right to make changes to the site, betting limits, payout limits and offerings. PENN may limit a patron for various reasons, including taking advantage of or manipulating the sportsbook or abusing promotional play. Patron
limits are a percentage of normal wager limits, and in wagering markets that have guaranteed stakes, the guaranteed stakes supersede any percentage limits imposed by PENN.”

When asked about the potential ramifications, Penn echoed Bally’s, suggesting it would force the operator’s hand and result in worse options for bettors:

“PENN is not able to speak for the industry as a whole. However, 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.”

The roundtable was just an informal discussion for the commission, so it is unclear what and if any follow-up actions will follow.