Casino Scandal Could Prevent Expansion of Massachusetts Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 29, 2023 12:00 AM
The potential expansion of Massachusetts sports is in danger of falling apart.

Plans for a fourth casino in the state of Massachusetts are potentially in jeopardy after allegations surfaced that a company involved provided customer data to an illegal gambling ring. If anything comes out of the ongoing investigation, it could be a blow to Massachusetts sports betting and casino industry.

Nothing is definitive at this time. Details surrounding the case only started surfacing late in the summer, and they are still trickling out now.

Still, if the allegations are true, officials charged with monitoring sports betting in Massachusetts as well as the casino industry are unlikely to sit tight. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has a track record of coming down hard on those who violate the state’s gambling policies. This situation most likely wouldn’t be any different. Especially given the nature of the allegations. 

Was the Massachusetts Sports Betting Market Really on the Verge of Adding Another Operator?

Before we get into the allegations, let’s start with what’s at stake. 

Three casinos are currently up and running in The Bay State, all of which feature licensed Massachusetts sportsbooks: Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park. However, according to PlayMA.com’s Adam Hensley, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe “hopes to build First Light Casino, a $1 billion property in Taunton.” To help make it happen, the tribe “partnered with the Malaysian-based Genting Group for the project.”

Recent allegations against the Genting Group and, more specifically, their Chief Operating Officer and President Scott Sibella now threaten to scuttle the project altogether. With that said, progress was already moving slowly along, if not at an absolute gridlock. The Taunton property has been embroiled in a separate legal battle for quite some time. And by “quite some time,” we mean eight years. Chris Gerlacher, also of PlayMA.com, has all the details:

“In September 2015, the Department of the Interior brought the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land into federal trust. Of the 321 acres in the trust, 151 were approved for gambling use. When the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe broke ground on the First Light Resort and Casino in April 2016, the stage was set for the fourth Massachusetts casino. However, nearly seven years later, no more progress has been made on the casino’s construction. That’s because, during this whole process, a legal challenge was brewing. Michelle Littlefield is part of a coalition that opposes the proposed First Light Casino in Taunton. Littlefield believes the DOI did not have the authority to take the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land into federal trust. Littlefield’s opposition goes back to 2012, when the First Light Casino was first proposed. She was part of the opposition movement to vote “no” on the proposed casino. Her opposition included the casino’s proximity to an elementary school, her belief that few local jobs would be created, and her issues with the intergovernmental agreement between the tribe and city.”

Various judges have ruled against formal filings from Littlefield and her coalition. The most recent ruling in favor of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe came in February 2023. But that hasn’t stopped the coalition from appealing each decision. And with each form of opposition, the project has been pushed back even further.

Could Plans for the Fourth Massachusetts Casino Now be Dead for Good?

Now, as it turns, the First Light Casino project could be scrapped altogether. The Genting Group is under scrutiny from federal investigators, and the allegations aren’t good. As the Nevada Current’s Dana Gentry wrote:

“Federal law enforcement agents from California are investigating allegations that current and former Las Vegas hotel employees used casino assets to pay gambling debts and provided confidential customer data to an illegal gambling ring that operated for almost two decades, according to sources. A state employee, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job, says federal agents have interviewed or taken statements from several former employees of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and have inquired specifically about Resorts World President Scott Sibella, formerly president of the MGM Grand.”

These are explosive allegations. And upon first read, they do not appear to directly involve Massachusetts. But Resorts World is owned by the Genting Group, the company partnering with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on the First Light Casino project.

As we already mentioned, no definitive ruling has been made on this matter yet. And even if the allegations are true, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission doesn’t have to take action. Resorts World is a subsidiary of the Genting Group. The former’s name is not officially tied to the First Light Casino project. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission could let the (eventual) construction proceed as planned.

Taking this stance, though, feels like wishful thinking. The state’s gaming commission has not been one to turn a blind eye to, well, anything. In the month of August alone, the three sportsbooks received fines related to Massachusetts sports betting violations. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission was also among the first to formulate a policy that prevented gamblers from betting on LIV Golf events despite its merger with the PGA.

The Massachusetts Sports Betting Market Does Not Necessarily Need the First Light Casino

If Resorts World is found liable in the current case, we believe the chances are good that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will force the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to sever ties with the Genting Group. And that’s absolutely a big deal. The state would be further delaying, if potentially shuddering, a billion-dollar real estate and entertainment project. That will cost jobs. And revenue. But how much revenue?

Indeed, the economic toll of scuttling the First Light Casino won’t be nothing. We don’t mean to imply otherwise, or to downplay the impact it will have on whatever number of jobs it was supposed to create. Look at the sports betting market specifically, though, we’re not entirely sure Massachusetts will be affected. 

Generally speaking, the vast majority of sports gambling now takes place with online sportsbooks in the United States. Casinos still serve a purpose—and make loads of money. People still tend to prefer physical slots and gaming tables to mobile casinos. 

Sports betting, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly an online business. That has so far held true in Massachusetts. As of July, mobile sportsbooks in Massachusetts accepted roughly $2 billion in total sports wagers this year. The three casinos in the state have combined to accept…just under $100 million.

Put another way: Online sports betting in Massachusetts is 20 times the size of the on-site sports betting market. So, while having another casino would surely drive up gaming revenue, it will have little to no impact on the immediate or long-term future of Massachusetts sports betting.  

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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