Two separate incidents in early February where Massachusetts sportsbooks mistakenly allowed betting on a Boston College women’s basketball game and a Merrimack College men’s basketball game have led the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to call for an adjudicatory hearing.
The MGC will hear witnesses and examine evidence in a future hearing that will also let the sportsbooks, Encore Boston Harbor and Plainridge Park Casino, explain how the unauthorized betting happened.
According to MA sports betting law, no wagering is permitted on regular season non-tournament collegiate athletics involving Massachusetts schools. These are the first alleged violations of gaming law by sportsbooks since the state launched its legal markets last month.
The casinos self-reported both violations. Both lasted only a few hours.
On Feb. 2, the Barstool Sportsbook at Plainridge Park Casino allowed wagers for a basketball game between Merrimack College and Long Island University for about seven hours. PPC accepted a total of 33 bets. Four were through a teller at a betting window. The remainder were at a kiosk in the casino. The bets totaled $6,848, and PPC paid $4,270 in winnings.
Also on Feb. 2, the WynnBET Sportsbook at Encore Boston Harbor allowed betting on a women’s basketball game involving Boston College and Notre Dame scheduled for that evening. EBH offered the BC game for roughly five hours until 5:35 p.m. But it only accepted one bet on the game, as part of a parlay. EBH quickly realized the mistake and voided the leg that involved the BC game. The wager was reportedly for a potential $70 parlay.
The Investigations and Enforcement Bureau, a division of the MGC, has led a preliminary investigation into the incidents. The IEB tries to ensure the integrity of Massachusetts gaming operations.
How Did These Errors Happen?
In the PPC incident, a teller (also known as a “writer” in the sports betting industry) reported the unauthorized betting when they realized the game involving Merrimack, located in Andover, should not have been offered.
Ryan Blake, sportsbook manager at Plainridge Park Casino, explained that the error occurred because their system mistakenly placed the school state for Merrimack as Florida instead of Massachusetts. That error allowed the game to slip past their compliance filters. Once officials at PPC were notified of the mistake, they fixed the error in 10 minutes.
There was no suspicious activity with the accepted bets. And Blake reported to the IEB that a new policy is in place. The sportsbook operators have created a blacklist and an additional filter for Massachusetts games. These extra precautions don’t rely on the state to exclude those games from odds offerings.
“We provided a list of Massachusetts schools who should be on a blacklist for reg season games,” Blake said. “That list has been provided to all PPC personnel, and we’ve (explained) that disciplinary action can be taken if an unauthorized bet is accepted.”
PPC also says shift managers must now check the list daily and sign off on it.
What Comes Next?
MGC commissioners, led by chair Cathy Judd-Stein, debated the next steps in response to the incidents. Judd-Stein asked the IEB to provide examples of what other states have done in similar situations.
Heather Hall, chief enforcement counsel and assistant director of the MGC, shared that other states have fined similar incidents in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. However, she did stress it’s difficult to compare because her research did not indicate whether fines in other states were for a first offense, or a subsequent offense.
Constructive debate emerged when the MGC turned to deciding which track to take to remediate the alleged incidents.
Commissioner Nakisha Skinner explained that she “would like the benefit of IEB continuing their work,” in regards to how other states penalized operators. But ultimately, the MGC determined the need for an adjudicatory hearing.
Under that process, the MGC, with help from the IEB if desired, would hold separate evidentiary hearings where EBH and PPC could explain the unauthorized wagering. Those hearings could be open or closed to the public. They could result in disciplinary action such as a fine or suspension.
MGM Springfield Accepts Illegal College Bets
A third incident of unauthorized betting was self-reported, this time by MGM Springfield at its BetMGM Massachusetts.
Bruce Band, the MGC director of sports wagering, said MGM Springfield accepted bets on a “Massachusetts basketball game” over the weekend. He then cited two Harvard games — vs. Yale (Feb. 3) and vs. Brown (Feb. 4) — and didn’t clarify if it was men’s basketball or women’s basketball, as both teams played the same opponents on the same days.
Band said an investigation is currently underway.