Massachusetts Gaming Commission Approves Broad Range of Sports For Legal Sports Betting

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By Colin Young
State House News Service

Time to brush up on biathlon, refresh yourself on the rules of rugby, and dive into pro darts — the Massachusetts Gaming Commission this week approved those events and dozens of others as part of the catalogue of sports and events that adults will be allowed to place bets on beginning next week.

The catalogue includes more than simply sports games, though. Commissioners approved for wagering things like professional league drafts, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award, competitive eating events, and events like the Academy Awards. And the list doesn’t include all the sports that the betting companies asked to be able to take bets on. Commissioners voted to exclude, at least for the initial in-person launch next week, betting on chess, cornhole, esports, jai alai, and much of the Olympics.

“We have the opportunity to come back [to the list]. We know we will be asked about different events on an ongoing basis. This is the dynamic, as it’s been pointed out, a dynamic list. We’re very fortunate to have it be robust. I think it’s competitive with the illegal market,” Gaming Commission chairman Cathy Judd-Stein said Tuesday when the commission voted 5-0 to approve the catalog.

The list includes athletics, Australian rules football, badminton, baseball/softball, basketball, biathlon, billiards, bowling, bowls, bull riding/rodeo, boxing, cricket, cycling, darts, disc, floorball, football, futsal, golf, handball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, mixed martial arts, racing, netball, pesapallo, rowing, rugby league, rugby union, sailing, snooker, soccer, beach soccer, special events, swimming, table tennis, tennis, volleyball, and water polo. Each category has specific leagues or governing bodies that are sanctioned for betting.

The catalogue was assembled based on a joint request of the three facilities that will be allowed to offer in-person betting starting Tuesday, January 31:  Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield, and Encore Boston Harbor in Everett. The commission’s staff reviewed that list and eliminated a few of the events requested before putting it up for commission approval.

Jai alai was pulled from the list because the sanctioned league has a betting exclusivity agreement with a company that is not operating in Massachusetts. Cornhole was excluded because the pro league in question had a recent cheating scandal. And though it was a source of disagreement among commissioners, the list does not include any Olympic events in which the final outcome is primarily based on the assessment of a judge or panel of judges.

Betting companies can petition the Gaming Commission for additions to the catalogue, and commissioners said this week that they want the operators to come back to them with more information on some events, particularly the Olympics, before they would approve them. That reconsideration could happen before mobile betting launches in March.

One of the main points of disagreement among commissioners this week was whether to allow betting on subjective awards, like the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl. That award is not based solely on the outcome of a contest, but instead upon a mix of fan and media voting.

Gaming Commission member Eileen O’Brien was the most vocal in her opposition to allowing wagers on “awards not based on achievements that can be measured statistically, including, for example, Emmy Awards and Academy Awards” as well as the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. At one point, she moved that the commission exclude those from the catalogue, but her motion failed with only herself in support.

Gaming Commission member Brad Hill was most vocal in his belief that people should be allowed to bet on the MVP of the Super Bowl, which Director of Sports Wagering Bruce Band said is “one very, very, very popular bet during the Super Bowl.”

“The MVP of the Super Bowl is like one of the biggest bets you’re going to see, and let’s be honest about that,” Hill said. He added, “If I was a bettor and I couldn’t bet on that, I’d hightail it up to New Hampshire where I could. I’d hightail it over to Rhode Island where I could. And I think our citizens deserve the right to be able to bet on that particular bet, on that issue.”

While the Academy Awards is not connected to sports, the Gaming Commission determined that it can allow wagers on it and events like it — which recognize accomplishments in the motion picture industry — because “under the statutory definition, there’s discretion as to the type of what sporting events is,” Judd-Stein said.

The state’s betting law defines “sports event” or “sporting event” as “a professional sport or athletic event, collegiate sport or athletic event, a collegiate tournament, motor race event, electronic sports event or other event authorized by the commission under this chapter” with the exceptions of high school and youth sports or athletic events, and non-tournament college sporting events that include a Massachusetts school.

On Monday, January 30 the commission and the three in-person operators in the state plan to conduct a “soft launch” of sports betting, similar to the way that the commission opened the state’s casinos and slots parlor. One commissioner plans to visit each of the facilities to observe how the facility handles taking bets from staff and invited guests.

In-person betting is slated to become available to the public the following day, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, January 31.


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