If you’ve ever wanted to see an example of a solution searching for a problem, you only have to consider part of a Massachusetts sports betting law that bans gambling on most competitions that involve in-state college teams. As a result of this misguided tenet, legislators have created more unnecessary work for Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) staff.
Encore Boston Harbor’s WynnBet Sportsbook has now violated the statute for the second time in less than a month. As a result, the MGC has now initiated a formal investigation. While the law says what it says, this is a problem that legislators created for sportsbook operators and regulators through an obvious lack of understanding of how sports betting works.
Massachusetts sports betting violations surface again
According to Colin A. Young of NBC 10 Boston, Encore reported another infraction earlier this week. The Commission addressed the issue in their Thursday meeting. Encore’s sports betting director, Bruce Band, explained that a glitch in the software the sportsbook uses resulted in markets being available on a Boston College women’s basketball game and self-service kiosks at the casino accepting bets on that event.
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 23N bans gambling on collegiate sporting events that include teams from within the state unless such events are part of a tournament involving at least four teams. For example, Massachusetts sportsbooks could take March Madness games the Eagles play in but not regular-season contests.
Band says the book has shut down all betting on women’s college basketball until it’s confident that it can avoid further violations. Regardless, the MGC voted to open an inquiry. Encore hasn’t been alone in having this problem.
Both MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park have reported similar violations, too. Because the casinos reported the infractions to the MGC themselves, regulators haven’t handed out any discipline yet.
While the Commissioners await the results of that investigation by MGC staff, they might ponder why the legislature effectively forced them to uphold such a misguided ban.
Legislators hoped to curb college sports from corruption
Massachusetts gambling law isn’t the only one to include some kind of restriction on college sports betting. Of those jurisdictions with such limitations, bans on wagering on teams that play within those borders is the most common type.
The argument behind such restraints is that college sports need a special level of protection from corruption. Because collegiate athletic workers are denied fair compensation for their labor by the NCAA’s chattel economy, the logic states, they are more vulnerable to bad actors offering them money to manipulate performances.
The theory continues that banning such betting decreases the odds of such a circumstance playing out. However, this premise falls apart quickly with even the most casual of examinations.
Bettors have other options to place illegal bets
There are multiple reasons why that line of thinking makes absolutely zero sense.
For starters, this concept assumes that people who want to fix games are thwarted by legal sportsbooks not taking action on them. It completely ignores the unregulated betting channels that exist like local bookies and offshore websites.
The idea that someone who is trying to fix a game would use a legal book is in and of itself ridiculous. Unless you’re a complete moron, you aren’t going to effectively leave a paper trail of your illegal activity that way.
Even if bookies and offshore sites did not exist, anyone in Massachusetts attempting to fix a collegiate sporting event would only have to drive across any of Massachusetts’ borders to place their villainous bets. Vermont is the only state that borders Massachusetts that doesn’t currently also offer legal online sportsbooks (and it’s being earnestly considered there right now).
Another reason this makes no sense is the fact that it puts zero faith in the regulatory system for sports betting.
Sportsbooks monitor for match-fixing attempts
For the sake of argument, assume that Massachusetts didn’t include this provision in its law. Further, imagine that someone in the state offered an athletic worker who plays basketball at Harvard a few hundred dollars to turn the ball over, make bad passes, intentionally miss shots, etc., and the athlete accepted.
Now, assume that the person used a regulated book to place their accompanying bet. The bettor, after shelling out hundreds of dollars to fix the game wouldn’t have put down a measly $20 or so on the game. Their bet would be in the thousands of dollars, likely against the betting trends, to make the return worth the risk they have incurred.
The sportsbook would flag such an outlier bet immediately as it would stick out like the sorest of thumbs. Most likely, the book would cancel the bet out of an abundance of caution.
Therefore, to pull this off not only would such security measures have to lapse at the sportsbook but also the athlete’s coaches and teammates would have to ignore the deviation in the athlete’s performance during the game.
The fact is that regulated books are set up to prevent this kind of unscrupulous behavior. However, with this part of the statute intact, Massachusetts legislators carved betting on in-state college teams out of that governance.
What legislators did
There are multiple ways in which this limitation does far more harm than good.
If the point of legalizing sports betting was to capture revenue and move the action from the black market to regulated channels, this ban is counterproductive. At the very least, the law has created an incentive for Bay Staters to head out of state to place bets.
At worst, it ensures that Massachusetts residents continue to use illegal betting services. Furthermore, it denies college athletes the same regulatory protections that athletes in other leagues enjoy. It ensures they remain vulnerable to bad actors.
Unfortunately, the MGC has no choice but to uphold this restriction on Massachusetts sports betting. Only the state legislature can address the issue. In the meantime, though, it’s more than just a classic solution looking for a problem. It’s a “solution” that created new problems.