With questions around responsible gaming and suitability front and center, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission Wednesday met for nine hours before postponing a decision on whether to issue a Category 3 (tethered digital) wagering license to Caesars Sportsbook. All the while, executives for MGM and BetMGM were waiting in the wings for their chance to complete the process.
When the MGC will complete the task of licensing Caesars is unclear, as its meeting schedule is jam-packed heading into a proposed late January retail launch and early March digital launch. The dates bounced around for the completion were Dec. 20 and Jan. 4, and executives for Caesars said they would be ready for either.
Last week, the commission declined to vote on MGM’s Category 1 retail license for its Springfield location, saying it was too closely tied to the BetMGM mobile Category 3 application. Both were on the agenda for Wednesday, but they have been pushed to Monday for consideration. Plainridge Park, its parent company PENN Entertainment, and Barstool Sportsbook are also on hold, after the MGC raised concerns about Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy last week.
So far, the commission has approved only Encore Boston Harbor’s Category 1 retail license and WynnBET’s Category 3 digital license. WynnBET will use Encore Boston Harbor’s first digital skin, and Caesars has a deal to use the second one.
Caesars must provide list of wrongs
During Wednesday’s meeting, the MGC spent hours — both in public and in closed executive session — exploring Caesars’ past indiscretions, its deals with Louisiana State University and Michigan State University, its mobile 18-wheel activation center, and more. Commissioners clearly find the company’s level of commitment to avoid marketing to those under 21 lacking, as they pointed out that Caesars has not adopted the American Gaming Association’s responsible gaming program and messaging or the GameSense responsible gaming program used in the state of Massachusetts.
According to commissioners, the AGA says it is acceptable to market sports betting to a group where at least 73.6% of people are over the age of 21, while Caesars’ own standards call for a lower threshold of 70%. Those numbers came up repeatedly during discussion about Caesars’ college partnerships.
Caesars has marketing deals with the LSU and Michigan State athletics programs. But, some gambling executives have said sponsorship deals with universities should be off-limits. https://t.co/FjLi6zyg6B
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) November 30, 2022
Caesars’ Jeff Hendricks strenuously defended his company, saying its responsible gaming program is “distinct” from the AGA’s, that the company does not market to college students, and that college football stadiums are generally filled mostly with those over 21. He also pointed out the company’s commitment to responsible gaming advertising and noted its partnership with football’s Manning family, but he could not deny that those underage would see the marketing — whether it was an advertisement, the Caesars Sportsbook truck at an event, or otherwise — even if minors would not be allowed to enter or participate.
Hendricks did say that the company has no plans to create partnerships with other universities and that it most certainly will not do so in Massachusetts.
Commissioners dug deep on responsible game and suitability, with Eileen O’Brien at one point calling the company’s response to a question on the application “cheeky.” That question, as well as others, will now have to be answered, and Hendricks said it would be done “post haste.” The company must also provide a complete list of every infraction or rules violation the company has been cited for in gaming states and the disposition of each.
How can PENN mollify MGC?
When the MGC does get to the Plainridge Park retail application and Barstool Sportsbook’s digital application, it’s unclear how the MGC will proceed and what exactly PENN Entertainment can do to satisfy the commission. The commission raised questions around responsible gaming and integrity in initially reviewing Plainridge Park’s application, as PENN is part-owner of Barstool Sports, and The New York Times profiled Portnoy and his sports media company in a negative light in November. The stories led the MGC to question whether Barstool Sports fits with its stringent responsible gaming persona.
If Barstool and Caesars are both denied their licenses to operate sportsbooks in Massachusetts, it will show that the MGC regulators cares more about themselves rather than the people of Massachusetts who worked their a** off to get sports betting legalized.
— Nick Gazerro: Part 2 (Taylor's Version) (@nikgazcs2) December 14, 2022
Barstool Sportsbook would use Plainridge Park’s first skin, with Fanatics Sportsbook using the second. The MGC was originally scheduled to review those applications next Monday, but it is now scheduling MGM/BetMGM for that day. The commission could review the Plainridge Park/Barstool applications later next week or in January.
The MGC will meet again Thursday, meanwhile, to vote on rules surrounding internal controls and the state’s Small Business Impact Statement.