The Massachusetts Gaming Commission met for six hours and 45 minutes last Thursday, discussing what the future of sports betting was going to look like in the commonwealth.
At the very end of the meeting — literally, the last item, and it wasn’t even on the agenda — Commissioner Nakisha Skinner raised a point that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been discussed at the political and/or regulatory level.
And one day, when the history of American sports betting is written, Skinner’s point may rival Paul Revere’s “The British are coming!” as the most important few minutes in Massachusetts history.
“I’ve been wondering about this,” Skinner began. “We’ve been getting public comment on the sports wagering operators and their practice of shutting off bettors who are making money off of their bets. I wonder if it makes sense for the commission to give a position publicly in terms on how we view that. … Maybe we should have that discussion in one of the upcoming meetings. To understand it myself, but also to communicate it with the public and what our expectations are there.”
Revere-related hyperbole aside, Skinner may one day be considered a hero to American sports bettors. Imagine — the old-school model, enshrined in Massachusetts law. Sure, there would be limits, but they’d be the same for everyone. What a concept.
Honestly, there’s a lot of poetry here.
The British (sports betting model) is already here, and much like in 1775, the first shots of the revolution are being fired in Massachusetts.
— Jessica Welman (@jesswelman) January 12, 2023
Down over $1,000 — and limited
I got limited at bet365 in New Jersey the other day. I had previously been limited at PointsBet, seemingly because I bet the sportsbook’s boosts every day and nearly nothing else. I had also previously been limited at BetMGM for reasons I couldn’t tell you.
But the bet365 limit, well, this one confuses me.
I’ve had the account for a few years, but barely touched it. Then I stumbled upon a “super boost” on Nov. 21 — over 0.5 goals in the USA vs. Wales World Cup match. Boosted from -1000 to +100, with a $15 limit. No-brainer. Bet it and won.
Now bet365 had my attention. I would check them out on the daily and see if they had more of these super boosts.
Three days later, they did, a Josh Allen passing yardage prop boosted from -290 to +100. I bet it. I won.
I made a few other bets, won a few, lost a few. Then — full disclosure — I started arb-ing. Sacre bleu, right? Not my fault, though; it was easy money. Basically, the spread between bet365’s odds and other sportsbooks’ odds were often separated by enough that it was guaranteed money. Obviously I’m not the first to do this, won’t be the last, but if they’re going to post, for instance, Kentucky giving 7.5 points to Iowa in the Music City Bowl at +400, and I can get Iowa getting 7.5 points at FanDuel at -320, I’m going to bet it. I was allowed to bet $375 on Kentucky at bet365, and I netted $72 on the wager.
Easy game, right?
Even better for bet365: Kentucky didn’t cover the 7.5 points. Nor did they cover the 9.5 points, or the 10.5 points, both bets that I made on the site.
In fact, since I made that first World Cup bet, I made 31 other bets at bet365, with 24 of them at plus-odds. I won 12 bets, one was voided, and two I immediately cashed out, as I found better odds elsewhere.
I lost $1,191.71 in my month-plus of betting at bet365, and outside of those first two boosted odds bets, everything else I wagered on was with the regular ol’ odds they posted. Spreads, totals, and props. A mix of everything.
Then I got the email.
“Following a review of your account by our Trading team, we regret to inform you that whilst our online service remains available to you, wagering restrictions will be applied on any future bets placed and the Cash Out feature is no longer available to you.”
Basically, the Brits at bet365 told me to bugger off. And they took my $1,191.71 with them.
Arb-ers not welcome
I got into a Twitter discussion about this with Alun Bowden, a senior consultant at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, and he nailed it, saying I was either arb-ing or picking off stale lines before I even told him that I was arb-ing.
So I asked, why limit me even when I’m losing?
“On a basic level because on average someone who bets like you is unprofitable for them. It’s crude but effective,” Bowden noted.
— Jeff Edelstein (@jeffedelstein) January 15, 2023
My real question, though, is, how the heck did they know I was betting the other side somewhere else? My only guess — and this is 100% conjecture — is that bet365 purposefully posts some tasty lines knowing arb-ers like me will pounce. Basically, leading this lamb to slaughter, because once I prove to them I’m hitting these lines, they figure I’m arb-ing, and they boot me.
(Another possible reason brought to my attention: bet365 originates many lines, and may want to see who’s copy/pasting them.)
But again: I am losing to a company that brought in $3.5 billion(!) in revenue last year, and now I’m limited.
I checked to see what my limits were. Tried to bet a points total in an NBA game and an NHL prop.
I was stopped at $33 on the over/under and $3.60 on the prop.
But the best was saved for last, when the Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress numbers were posted over the weekend. (I love betting information markets.)
Sure, Angela Bassett is almost certainly going to win for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but at +2000, I thought Stephanie Hsu from Everything Everywhere All at Once was a good value. I had 88 cents left in my bet365 account, and decided to let it ride.
But I couldn’t. They wouldn’t let me bet 88 cents.
In fact, they wouldn’t let me bet at all.
I asked why, and when they emailed me back, it was not helpful.
“Upon review of your account I can confirm we do not have the information on to why your limit would be set to zero as this may be due to the trading decision on your account. At this time I can only advise if you intend to wager you can place an amount you would like and decrease accordingly.”
I also reached out to bet365’s public relations department for comment for this article, but did not receive a response.
Limits, limits, and more limits
People smarter than me have also written, talked, complained, tweeted about it.
— Jeffrey Benson (@JeffreyBenson12) October 15, 2021
It’s an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon and will continue to do the exact opposite of what legalized sports betting was supposed to accomplish: getting rid of the black market, be it offshore sites or Fat Tony.
Yes, the offshores will also limit customers sometimes, and if Fat Tony says you’re limited, you’re limited, but … come on. I can’t get $4 down on a player prop? Or four cents on a Best Supporting Actress?
Let’s go back to Massachusetts for a moment:
“I am hoping to speak to staff about this in hopes that they would actually be able to reach out to our applicants and to our licensees and ask the question of them,” said Bradford Hill, another commissioner, in response to Skinner’s comments and questions about limits. “My hope would be within a week or two we would get the answers and then address it at that time. I think it’s important. It’s a simple question.”
Is it possible the Massachusetts Gaming Commission might recommend that sportsbooks aren’t allowed to limit customers at will? It’s certainly worth watching this in the coming weeks.
At the very least, these books shouldn’t be allowed to limit customers who are losing at their sportsbooks. That just seems awfully … un-American.