After a review of its existing statutes, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has approved a letter to send to the legislature proposing amendments to the state's gaming, sports betting and horseracing laws, but declined to include revisions to its pre-employment restrictions.
Currently, MGC casino regulation Chapter 23K, Section 26 states that “no individual shall be employed by the [Massachusetts Gaming] Commission if, during the period commencing three years prior to employment, that individual held any direct or indirect interest in or was employed by a licensee under this chapter.”
Commissioner Brad Hill told his colleagues during a meeting on Thursday (January 18) that the issue of potentially reducing the restrictions was brought up to him by MGC staff who had some concerns with hiring practices in the past.
Hill shared an email from Alexandra Lightbown, director of racing at the commission, who was unable to hire a veterinarian who subbed for one day at Plainridge Park Casino.
“Afterwards, she said she didn’t want that position but would later like to work for the MGC as a blood gas vet. Because she worked for the casino, we were advised that we would have to wait three years and there is a nation-wide vet shortage,” according to Lightbown’s email.
Lightbown wrote that she could support a one-year separation, but three years seems too long especially when it comes to seasonal and part-time employees.
“I believe that the three years is a little extreme,” said Hill, who asked his colleagues if they would agree to add language to the four-page letter requesting statutory reforms from the state legislature, to either lower it to one year or eliminate the requirement.
“I felt it should be zero but that may be to extreme for my fellow commissioners,” Hill said. “So, I am willing to put … one year as a suggestion.”
Both commissioners Eileen O’Brien and Jordan Maynard opposed any reduction to the pre-employment restrictions and made it clear they would not sign the legislative letter if Hill’s proposal were included.
“I understand why it was put in there. I think it should still be in there,” O’Brien said. “The only thing I would be open to is the idea of asking for an amendment that if the disqualifying employment was less than some period of time, where you are talking about seasonal or part-time employment.”
O’Brien stressed that other than that she was not inclined to lower it and would not be willing to eliminate it.
Maynard agreed, saying the reason for the three-year restriction “in the first place was not to allow the industry to capture the agency which regulates them.”
MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein noted that the three-year restriction did not extend to Chapter 23N of Massachusetts' gaming laws that regulates sports betting, but only to employees with the state’s three land-based casino.
“Is one year going to help Lightbown, maybe not,” Judd-Stein said. “Given that we don’t have this burden on sports wagering … I wouldn’t mind reducing it to zero.”
Judd-Stein said she believed that there were sufficient regulations in place that would protect the agency. She added that her support to reducing the three-year restriction was it would allow the commission to attract people with considerable experience.
“I want to bring this up. The disconnect between 23K and 23N,” O’Brien said. “I’m uncomfortable with it. I actually think it should be consistent across the board.”
Hill and Judd-Stein were joined in support of adding the amendment to the letter by commissioner Nakisha Skinner. Judd-Stein decided to keep the provision out so the letter could be signed by all five commission members.
She said commissioners can bring the issue up again in the future.
Among the proposals submitted to the legislature is a request to create a statutory exemption under the Massachusetts Public Records Law to allow the MGC at its discretion to determine records submitted by licensees containing trade secrets, competitively sensitive or other proprietary information should remain private.
“It is difficult for the commission to engage in robust oversight of the regulated entities in the sports wagering or racing space without being able to access certain sensitive information [such as unaudited financial reports] that are otherwise not subject to an exemption to the public records law.
“While there is some ability to protect certain information from public disclosure on the casino gaming side, language more clearly outlining that authority would be beneficial,” the letter states.
The MGC is also asking the legislature to clarify regulators' authority to enter into non-disclosure agreements with gaming licensees and the types of materials that may be covered by such agreements, as well as allowing the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau to “obtain or provide” information about applicants or licenses with other agencies.
Among those agencies are state regulatory authorities, federal or foreign jurisdictions, including the FBI.
The MGC is also seeking for lawmakers to enable them to transmit such information to each other electronically.
“While this authority exists on the casino gaming side and is a beneficial tool allowing a cooperative and efficient approach across regulatory jurisdictions, no such authority exists in the context of sports wagering and may hinder the commission’s ability to secure information relative to its licensed entities or applicants.”
Another proposed amendment would give gamblers monthly electronic access to their total bets, win and loss figures.