Massachusetts To Take Action Over BetMGM College Prop Bets

February 6, 2024
Two hearings for sports-betting operators seeking to exit Massachusetts are expected to resume Thursday, while no date has been set yet for an adjudicatory hearing concerning BetMGM accepting thousands of proposition bets on college football games in violation of state regulations.

Two hearings for sports-betting operators seeking to exit Massachusetts are expected to resume Thursday (February 8), while no date has been set yet for an adjudicatory hearing concerning BetMGM accepting thousands of proposition bets on college football games in violation of state regulations.

BetMGM accepted more than 15,000 wagers and collected more than $200,000 related to college football player prop bets through the same game parlay component on the BetMGM platform, according to the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC).

“The wagers were made on the outcome of a performance of an athlete,” Kathleen Kramer, the MGC’s senior enforcement counsel, told commissioners last week. “This took place over the college football season.”

Collegiate betting was one of the most divisive issues during the legislative process that led to Massachusetts legalizing sports betting. The state's Senate sought to pass legislation that would have prohibited betting on all collegiate sports, while the House passed a bill that allowed wagering on college sports but prohibited proposition bets.

Under the final legislation that legalized sports betting in 2022, operators in Massachusetts are prohibited from offering prop bets on the performance of individual college athletes, while wagering on Massachusetts college teams is limited to games in a tournament such as college basketball's March Madness or the Beanpot college hockey tournament at Harvard that concludes next Monday (February 12) at TD Garden in Boston.

Player props on college sports are coming into sharper focus as an area where there is no uniformity among the 38 states with legal sports wagering.

Several states besides Massachusetts have regulations that prohibit the offering of prop bets on college athletes, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.

Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board spokesman Richard McGarvey confirmed Monday that Pennsylvania also does not allow for individual college player proposition bets, and that “no violations have occurred.”

Last week, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) president Charlie Baker and Ohio Republican Mike DeWine both publicly called for a prohibition on college player props in the state, even though neither Ohio law nor regulations currently prohibit the offerings.

In the nation’s most mature sports-betting market, there is similarly nothing that prevents proposition bets from being offered in Nevada on college athletes, according to state gaming regulators.

"Understanding both sides, it's a tough call. I feel by not taking those wagers, we push those bets to unregulated channels," said Jay Kornegay, risk executive vice president at SuperBook Sports in Las Vegas.

"If suspicion arises, we'll have limited investigative resources," Kornegay said. "By accepting those wagers, you'll create more traffic and the possibility of more opportunities for scandals."

Kornegay told Vixio GamblingCompliance that Superbook had been "accepting college player props for over two decades and haven't had any issues but it's inevitable they come."

"I also believe the (name, image, and likeness) opportunities will reduce mischievous behavior," he added, referring to rules that allow college athletes to be financially compensated.

Eileen O’Brien, an MGC commissioner, credited the agency’s sports wagering team for some auditing work that caught the issue with BetMGM, instead of the company self-reporting the issue to regulators.

O’Brien added that the breadth of the incident, with the number of bets and the amount, makes “this worth of an adjudicatory hearing.”

The MGC voted unanimously last week to hold a hearing on BetMGM’s alleged violation of Massachusetts gaming regulations. BetMGM did not respond Monday (February 5) to a request for comment.

“As we hear these facts, I’m hopeful … that we can think of a timeline for this process,” said MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein.

“Prop bets on students is a statutory violation here in Massachusetts and it’s a conversation that is starting to happen across the nation as of, is it ever appropriate,” Judd-Stein said. “Massachusetts, I feel got this right. So, I’m personally interested in solving this matter as quickly as possible for the protection of student-athletes.”

Also on the commission’s lengthy to-do list is finalizing plans to allow Betr Holdings and WynnBET to exit the Massachusetts sports-betting market. 

Betr has been seeking to cease operations on February 16 and WynnBET on February 23.

At their meeting on Thursday, commissioners and staff had several issues with Betr’s plan to leave Massachusetts, eventually tabling discussion on the requests until staff and representatives from both companies could resolve all outstanding issues and submit an updated plan to the five-member commission.

Betr did not respond to a request for comment.

“We will follow the direction of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on when and how WynnBET exits the market,” the company said in an email Monday. 

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