Massachusetts: Gaming commissioners approve sports betting catalog, address player safety concerns

With sports betting to become legal in Massachusetts next week, state regulators are working on setting up the final rules for the market. Gaming commissioners have now approved sports betting options and addressed player safety concerns.

In-person betting is scheduled to begin Jan. 31 at the three facilities that secured Category 1 licenses: Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor. Mobile betting will follow in early March, with approved mobile licenses for Bally’s Interactive, FanDuel, Betr, DraftKings, Digital Gaming and PointsBet Massachusetts.

The market will also eventually include Raynham Park, which will offer sports betting when it opens in the spring. Caesars Sportsbook announced earlier this week a deal to open a large betting facility at the former racetrack. Given it won’t be ready until summer, a temporary betting parlor will open in the meantime.

In their latest meeting on Tuesday, Massachusetts regulators spent time approving the list of allowable wagers and leagues on which gambling is permitted. The approved catalog includes bets allowed under state law, including single-game bets, parlays, teasers, moneyline bets, totals, in-game and in-play wagering, exchange betting, and props.

Operators also submitted requests to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which were most approved, including point-spread wagering, futures, cashouts, and each-way wagering. And while regulators mostly agreed on the wagering proposed, they did however show reservations about certain bets and sports.

As a result, the MGC moved to approve expected sports and leagues such as the NFL, MLB, NBA, MLB, and NHL, among many others, while shooting down some less obvious choices. When the industry kicks off, bettors won’t be able to place wagers in competitions including virtual events and esports, jai alai, chess, cornhole, the summer and winter Olympics, and sports overseen by Belorussian or Russian bodies.

The MGC could revisit its bans in the future, including those on the Olympics, which were driven by concerns about wagering on events decided by judges. MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein called the sports betting catalog “dynamic” at the meeting, noting it is open to updates.

Player safety concerns brought forward

As sports betting is about to begin, athletes’ representatives also showed concerns about the safety of the players and their families, asking commissioners to step in, reports the State House News Service. The Players’ Association, a collective that includes representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS players’ associations, has asked the commission to include language in its regulations to outline safety measures for players, family members and game officials, and the penalties for fans and bettors who make threats against them.

The group said it was open to a host of options, from prohibiting people who make threats from betting in Massachusetts to shutting down all betting on a particular game or sport. “All we are asking for today in this process is that you consider some things that will make things safer, and make sports betting better and more fair,” said Steve Fehr, special counsel to the National Hockey League Players Association.

During Monday’s meeting, the player representatives cited situations of unruly fan behavior “in which players’ safety has been at risk including one at the TD Garden.” The group cited a 2018 incident in which a fan threw a beer at Tyreek Hill during a Patriots game, and a handful of other incidents around the country. The group argues players “know that they will be targeted by potential losing sports bettors” and that they and their families “should be protected.”

As per the cited source, Matt Nussbaum, general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, said a regulation allowing the Gaming Commission to disqualify certain people from betting in Massachusetts if they threaten players or their families “is going to encourage players to come forward” when they are targeted.

In response, Judd-Stein said the commission is “going to work on the regulation language to make sure that we can address the safety and well-being of the players” and suggested that it might put some of the onus on the sports betting companies awarded licenses here.