Five meetings, two months, and countless hours after a review started, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on Monday found itself at a crossroads on how to proceed with the sports betting license application process for one of the state’s racetracks.
Monday’s meeting closed with commissioners wanting more time to consider the situation and Raynham Park representatives saying they’ll ponder “next steps or, to be quite frank, if there will be any.”
The situation intensified days after Caesars Sportsbook announced that it had terminated its agreement with Raynham Park to operate a retail sportsbook. That was one of two issues the MGC considered on Monday.
The regulator has not approved any other potential licensees without a partner already in place. Beyond that, concerns had been raised about one of Raynham’s Park principals, Chris Carney, and his role in the business. On Friday, the Massasoit Greyhound Association (MGA), owners of Raynham Park, alerted the MGC of plans to withdraw Carney’s application as an individual qualifier on the application.
During Friday’s meeting, there was much contentious discussion about whether Carney withdrawing was a practical solution. Commissioners aired concerns about whether Carney, whose family has long been in the racing business, would be able to disentangle himself from the track and its sports betting operation.
‘Torturous’ explanation not needed
The conversation continued into Monday, when commissioners went through what it means to be an individual qualifier and whether Carney was, in fact, required to be one. MGA representatives told the commission that it would set up management committees to keep Carney from having influence over any business dealings.
After several hours of debate, which again included commissioners talking over one another and Raynham Park representatives, the MGC voted 4-1 to remove the requirement for Carney to be on the application. The decision didn’t come easy, as Commissioner Eileen O’Brien, the lone dissenter, said she believes that Carney is inextricably tied to the track and that even with the MGA withdrawing his application, he would still be involved.
O’Brien at one point told the MGA’s lawyer that she wasn’t interested in his “torturous” legal explanation of Carney’s role or how the State Supreme Court defined such situations. She also said that regardless of whether Carney has formal ties to Raynham Park, he represented himself as having “significant power and influence” over the track’s business dealings. But given that Carney does not, at this juncture, have a title at the track, the other four commissioners voted that the MGA would not be required to qualify him.
“If this body, or any other adjudicatory body, was restricted to paperwork, I shudder to think what suitability analyses would look like if you couldn’t look at the actual facts on the ground,” O’Brien said. “We are tasked with looking at the facts in front of us, not a tortured analysis of corporate law that tries to hamper this commission.”
Sportsbook already under construction
The bigger issue for Raynham Park, though, is having a partner to run its sportsbook, which is currently being built out. The company has already spent significant dollars to create a sportsbook destination and breathe new life into the facility.
Most major operators already have partners in the state — the Encore Boston Harbor is partnered with WynnBET for both retail and digital operations, Plainridge Park has a physical Barstool brick-and-mortar sportsbook and digital platform, and MGM Springfield has a brick-and-mortar BetMGM sportsbook and platform. In addition, Caesars is operating under Encore’s second digital skin and Fanatics Sportsbook is live under a second skin from Plainridge Park.
Betr, DraftKings, and FanDuel are all live with standalone digital licenses. Under Massachusetts law, each casino is entitled to up to two digital partners, while each racetrack gets one skin and seven standalone mobile licenses are available. Suffolk Downs, the other track in the state that could apply for a license, has not done so yet.
Raynham Park, which has not announced a digital partner, could operate a branded sportsbook with the help of a company like Kambi or SBTech, or could partner with a smaller operator, like BetRivers or Tipico. It could also team up with a European company trying to gain a foothold, like bet365 or Betway.