Here’s Why The MGC Became An Influential Regulatory Body

Written By Adam Hensley on December 8, 2023 - Last Updated on December 12, 2023
A picture of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission logo on a stage.

Massachusetts is viewed by many as an industry leader in responsible gaming. That stems from the work of its regulators at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The MGC is the state’s governing body for Massachusetts’ legal gambling ecosystem. When it comes to MA online sportsbooks or MA casinos, it’s the biggest voice within the state when it comes to ruling on sports betting and casinos.

“I think Massachusetts is a leader in reponsible gaming,” Greenberg Traurig law firm shareholder Mark Hichar told PlayMA over the summer. “(Responsibility) will continue to be a focus of gaming regulators in the US, but I do believe Massachusetts is among the leaders in this area.”

But what made the MGC so powerful? There’s no one moment but rather a handful of events and actions that helped build this regulatory body into a titan.

Here’s a closer look.

MGC’s handling of the Steve Wynn sexual misconduct case

In early 2018, the Wall Street Journal broke a story outlining patterns of sexual abuse by Steve Wynn. At the time, Wynn was the founder and CEO of Wynn Resorts, a hospitality empire building a casino resort near Boston.

Wynn Boston Harbor was subsequently named Encore Boston Harbor, as Wynn Resorts attempted to distance itself from its CEO and founder.

Legal issues bubbled from this report. Nevada gaming regulators fined Wynn Resorts $20 million for the organization’s inability to respond to the sexual misconduct claims. But it was Massachusetts regulators that dropped the hammer.

For three days, the MGC deliberated on what to do with this issue. In turn, the commission fined Wynn Resorts $35 million.

The MGC found that former Wynn Resorts company executives covered up the sexual abuse allegations in an attempt to protect the disgraced CEO. Specifically, executives tried to pay off or silence those affected. The women who accused Wynn of sexual abuse were paid off and signed non-disclosure agreements to stay quiet.

MGC officials decided to let Encore Boston Harbor keep its license, but it needed to follow a few requirements. Those to-dos included paying for an independent monitor to analyze company policies and also provide training to avoid future harassment for both executives and employees.

The fine against the operator was massive, but it set a precedent — actions like Wynn’s would not be tolerated, and neither would any sort of cover-up operations.

Cracking down on Barstool

In recent years, Barstool Sports has skyrocketed as a major voice in the sports gambling world. Influencers such as founder Dave Portnoy and personality Dan “Big Cat” Katz often made headlines for their bets and comments surrounding gambling.

The MGC’s handling of the Barstool Sportsbook is arguably its most famous instance of responsible gambling.

This inspection started as early as 2022, when officials believed that Portnoy displayed reckless gambling habits. Prior tweets from Portnoy — such as one in 2019 where he said to “bet your house, kids and family” on the Kansas City Chiefs (who lost) — didn’t help his case.

Other non-gambling reports that didn’t paint Portnoy is the best light left the MGC wondering if Barstool Sportsbook’s partnership with Plainridge Park Casino should happen.

The MGC ended up giving the sportsbook a temporary license. But continued to keep a close eye on Portnoy and the rest of Barstool Sports.

However, things eventually came to a tipping point this year.

MGC said there was no such thing as “risk-free” bets

In gaming, the terms “risk-free” or “free bets” came under fire due to their false nature. Major players in the sports betting industry, such as FanDuel and DraftKings, ended up adjusting their promotional language away from such terms.

Branding a promotional offering as “risk-free” simply isn’t true. Customers would have to wager their own money to then have access to site credits.

This is where Barstool Sports got in hot water. Katz would come up with a weekly parlay. He’d brand this bet as the “Can’t Lose Parlay.” Fans of the company know that Katz has a terrible track record when it comes to gambling. But the phrase “Can’t Lose Parlay” implied no risk in a wager, and that’s where the MGC took issue.

PENN Entertainment (which owned Barstool Sportsbook) claimed that this phrase was satirical. Jonathan M. Albano, who defended PENN Entertainment, said this about Katz and his promotion:

“Katz (has admitted) that he is a terrible, terrible gambler, and ‘a loser who never wins at gambling.’

“The (Can’t Lose Parlay) is a humerous, satirical reference to Mr. Katz’s reputation as an awful bettor.”

That argument didn’t hold up, though.

The MGC found that Katz’s Can’t Lose Parlay violated rules that prohibit not only unfair or deceptive branding, marketing, and advertising, but also those that would reasonably expected to confuse or mislead patrons in order to induce them to engage in sports wagering.”

Barstool Sportsbook ended up removing the advertisement. Eventually, PENN Entertainment washed its hands of Barstool Sports. It sold the company back to Portnoy and partnered with ESPN to form ESPN Bet.

MGC meets frequently, more so than other regulatory bodies

Yes, this seems obvious, but it’s a big reason why the MGC has the power it does. The group meets regularly, and that sort of continuity means the MGC is always holding discussions.

The commission has some discussion every week, whether in an open meeting or a public hearing.

With increased discussions come more decisions. And since many view Massachusetts as a pioneer in the responsible gambling world, this only bolsters its case.

Photo by PlayMA
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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