BOSTON (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 catalog of sports and events that adults will be allowed to place bets on beginning next week.
The catalog includes more than simply sports games, though. Commissioners approved for wagering things like professional league drafts, the Super Bowl MVP award, competitive eating events, and events like the Academy Awards. And it 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," Chairwoman 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 catalog was assembled based on a joint request of the three facilities that will be allowed to offer in-person betting starting Tuesday, 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 catalog 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 between commissioners this week was whether to allow betting on subjective awards, like the MVP 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.
Commissioner 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 MVP. At one point, she moved that the commission exclude those from the catalog, but her motion failed with only herself in support.
Commissioner 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 not connected to sports, the Gaming Commission determined that it can allow wagers on something like the Academy Awards -- 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.
With the catalog of events that can be wagered upon in place, the Gaming commission has a few more matters of business to wrap up before legal betting can begin here next week.
The agenda for the commission's Thursday morning meeting calls for a discussion of the house rules for the three in-person operators set to go live next week. No company can take bets unless its house rules have been approved by the Gaming Commission.
The betting law requires that the house rules "shall specify the amounts to be paid on winning wagers and the effect of sports event schedule changes." The rules have to be accessible to all patrons and the Gaming Commission is empowered to fine any operator that violates its house rules.
The house rules vote might not take place until Friday afternoon. The Gaming Commission is planning to meet at 1 p.m. Friday and its agenda includes an item for a vote on house rules and a vote to approve the certificates of operations that each licensee will need in order to take bets.
On Monday, the commission and the three in-person operators are going 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 will visit each of the facilities to observe how they handle 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, Jan. 31.
Written By Colin A. Young/SHNS