On Jan. 23, days ahead of the launch of retail sports betting in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) met with the player unions of various sports leagues to address their proposed changes to Massachusetts sports betting legislation.
In a letter to the MGC dated September 22, 2022, law firm Preti Strategies requested additional considerations on behalf of these groups: the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), and the Major League Soccer Players Association (MLSPA).
Athletes & Their Families Need Protection
The first issue that the player associations put forth regards proper safeguarding of athletes and their families from potential angry sports bettors.
Essentially, they proposed that should a sports bettor show violence, threatening behavior, or acts of intimidation toward a player or their family, as a result of losses incurred or otherwise, this should “constitute sufficient cause for exclusion from a sporting event.”
“This industry, the sports betting industry, is built on the backs of the players. Quite literally the revenue is generated entirely by the performance of the players,” Steve Fehr, special counsel to the NHLPA, said. “All we are asking for today in this process is that you consider some things that will make things safer, and make sports betting better and more fair.”
The safeguarding options discussed range from banning any bettor that has made threats from betting in the state, to shutting down all betting on a particular sport.
MGC General Counsel Todd Grossman promised to take a “close look” to see if any language in the existing legislation allowed or disallowed such prohibitions. “But then the question will become, if it does not exist, whether the commission has authority to adopt such language in the regulations,” Grossman said.”
Commissioner Natasha Skinner pronounced her support for these changes, pending Grossman’s in-depth look at the feasibility of the amendments. MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said that the commission is “going to work on the regulation language to make sure that we can address the safety and well-being of the players.” Judd-Stein also indicated that licensed operators will likely be in charge of carrying out such rules as well.
If adopted, Massachusetts would not be alone as both Virginia and Illinois have similar language in their legislation.
How These Changes Help
The onus of these player associations to make changes here don’t come randomly. In fact, there have been several occasions where enraged sports bettors directly threaten the safety of players.
One of the most egregious examples came in 2019 when an avid sports bettor was found guilty of sending death threats to at least 45 different professional and collegiate athletes between July and December 2017. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
That being said, Preti Strategies representatives Jim Eisenberg and Kris Erikson have hope that it will be a rarity that the MGC will need to step in, and giving the commission the authority to do so will deter bettors on its own.
General Counsel for the MLBPA Matt Nussenbaum said that giving the MGC the ability to disqualify certain bettors will “encourage players to come forward”
Collective Bargaining Agreements
Lastly the player associations want “deference to rules collectively negotiated between a league and its Players Association governing player safety.”
This “ensures that Players and the Leagues are protected by collectively bargaining rules and procedures, while also ensuring that the unique aspects of each collective bargaining agreement, which differ among the sports, can be accommodated.”
Furthermore “inclusion of these definitions as part of the regulations would provide a safety net and would avoid any potential challenges where it could be argued that state law conflicts with provisions within a collective bargaining agreement.”
As the MGC plans to launch sports betting next week, it is expected that these revisions will be a large topic of discussion as the week goes on. If all goes as planned, mobile sports betting will launch in March, which Eisenberg is more concerned about when it comes to player safety.