Sports betting bungle; Smoke gets in their ears

Good going, MGM Springfield. It has become the third Massachusetts casino to ‘fess up to taking illegal wagers in the opening days of lawful sports betting. Did the Bay State go live too soon? It’s looking that way, as regulators say they’ll be learning to “set the goalposts” on what is and isn’t permitted, a tacit admission that they got caught with their pants down. Look, this isn’t rocket science and none of three bungling companies is a novice to sports wagering, making this all the more inexcusable. Putting a ‘pause’ on the March 10 launch of mobile betting seems only sensible while the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gets its act together.

In MGM’s case, it accepted two bets on Harvard University games, a black-letter violation of Bay State gaming regulations. What part of “No bets on in-state collegiate games” do these casino employees not understand? Is it too subtle? In a jaw-dropping admission, regulators told NBC Boston “they expected violations like these to occur and said they are mindful that the way they choose to handle these early ones will set an expectation of how they will handle similar cases in the future.” That puts them in a sticky wicket. If they give Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International and Penn Entertainment mulligans for their early goofs, they’ll have a hard time justifying getting tough if the problem persists. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner went so far as to belittle the offenses as “relatively routine,” words that could come back to haunt the MGC.

At least Penn has a get-out-of-jail-free card for its infraction. OSB provider Camby misidentified Merrimack College as being in Florida, resulting in 33 erroneous bets. Fortunately, an astute ticket writer identified the goof and self-reported. Encore Boston Harbor is also pushing its vendor under the bus for its lone violation. Amazingly, the MGC doesn’t even have an online FAQ as to what kinds of wagers are permissible, as its own lawyers had to point out, so it is far from blameless. (The rules do get rather byzantine where March Madness is concerned.) Maybe the MGC should impose a fine on itself. We’d be OK with that.

Opponents of smoking in casinos finally got their day in the New Jersey Lege. While casino companies were conspicuous by their absence (possibly cognizant of the dangers of trying to defend and indefensible position), health advocates were not shy. As state Sen. Joe Vitale (D) said of the casinos, “it’s unpleasant to be embarrassed in a public setting.” Additional kudos go to the picketer who brought a sign reading “Casino lives matter.” As Vitale said, “It’s immoral for the owners of casinos to think their employees are expendable. If you smell it, it’s in your lungs.” He was cautiously seconded by state Sen. Richard Codey (D), who had made this devil’s bargain with casinos in order to get a smoking ban of any sort passed when he was acting governor.

The casinos’ excuse for keeping smoking in place is the illogical argument that although they made $5.2 billion last year, half of that was derived online. Hey, they wanted Internet gambling. Now they complain that it’s keeping customers away. Let them stay home and smoke. There seem to be plenty of nonsmokers ready to take their place. Said Borgata dealer Lamont White, “I’m 60. I realize that people dying in their forties and fifties is not normal. As dealers, we cannot walk away; our job is to take it, no matter how many cigarettes or cigars are lit.” Unfortunately for White, he has an in-house enemy in Unite-Here prexy Robert McDevitt, who parrots the Big Gaming line when he says, “It would close one, maybe two casinos in Atlantic City.” If one listens to the union and the industry, smoking should continue indefinitely and let the bodies fall where they may.

State Sen. Joe Vitale (D) meets with demonstrators.

Rather than show its face at the hearing, the Casino Association of New Jersey issued a blast of hot air and alarmism about the overhyped ‘recession.’ It read in part, “An immediate smoking ban in New Jersey casinos, while smoking is still permitted in casinos in neighboring states, against the backdrop of an already weakened and worsening economic climate, would endanger thousands of jobs and jeopardize millions of dollars in tax revenue dedicated to seniors and the disabled.” We wonder how many of the disabled are themselves the victims of lung cancer.

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights President Cynthia Hallett fired right back, pointing to the labor shortage in Atlantic City: “Their sky-is-falling predictions cannot be taken seriously given the realty of the employment situation in Atlantic City. And maybe they wouldn’t have such a hard time finding employees if potential workers knew they wouldn’t have to work in a smoke-filled environment for eight hours a day. We suggest they end indoor smoking and use that as a recruiting tool.” Or, as Vitale cut to the quick, “To suggest it’s okay for casino workers to be exposed to second-hand smoke, but not bartenders, waitresses and office clerks is absurd.”

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D) with hearing attendees.

He was met with the usual procrastination from the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey flack Christina Renna, who said, “I would argue that the timing is not right today,” health of workers be damned. “I do also believe that a smoking ban will happen. I do believe it will happen. I think it’s inevitable that it will happen. And quite frankly it’s probably the right thing to do. But the timing needs to be right when it’s done.” If we wait for the Rennas of the world to come around, the “right time” will never arrive.

Inertia is on her side. Backers of the bill to close the casino loophole, like state Sen. Shirley Turner (D), ostensibly have the votes to pass it for Gov. Phil Murphy‘s promised signature but actually bringing the legislation to a floor vote has proven difficult. And although Vitale rightly deemed the industry’s attitude “prehistoric,” it’s unclear whether he’ll even be able to get the bill out of the committee he chairs. Color us guardedly pessimistic. After all, casino employees don’t write big campaign checks.

As Bally’s Corp. “desperately” looks to sell DFS outfit Monkey Knife Fight, the numbers continue to trickle out and they’re appalling. Monkey Knife Fight, purchased two years ago, generated less than $5 million in revenue. The interactive division of Bally’s lost $428 million last year, thanks to outgoing CEO Lee Fenton‘s higgelty-piggelty ‘strategy’ of cobbling together dubious assets or, as he put it, “We pulled together a fairly large number of assets in a small space of time, we’ve now had 12 months of looking at that and knitting that picture together. The assets that are not showing us a near-term path to profitability will of course be under the microscope, as they should be.” Mind you, that was last November, well before Fenton jumped or was pushed out. Unfortunately, successor Robeson Reeves seems bent upon steering the same failing course, saying, “We are in for the long haul. We believe in having a global business.”

Jottings: More crime in Las Vegas—the catalytic converter was stripped from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile while it was parked on Paradise Road. That’s what you get for staying at Sonesta Suites. A replacement part was found and the Wienermobile was soon on its way … Hoping to get a piece of FanDuel? Nothing doing. But you may soon have the next best thing, if an IPO of parent Flutter Entertainment is approved by shareholders.

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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