Illegal College Basketball Gambling Taking Place Ahead of Online Massachusetts Sports Betting Launch

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Feb 19, 2023 07:00 PM
Illegal College Basketball Gambling Taking Place Ahead of Online Massachusetts Sports Betting Launch

Ahead of online sports betting in Massachusetts going live on March 10, the state is currently grappling with the news that three licensed retail sportsbooks have accepted illegal college basketball wagers on in-state teams

The practice of betting itself in Massachusetts is not currently illegal. Legal in-person wagering went live for the state at the beginning of January. Residents of Massachusetts are able to place wagers at one of three brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. 

However, according to Massachusetts sports betting law, residents are not allowed to submit wagers on in-state teams unless the transaction in question meets a specific set of criteria. As it turns out, retail sportsbooks have had trouble filtering out options for betting on Massachusetts college basketball games. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) reports that all three licensed sportsbooks in the state have accepted illegal college basketball bets.

Massachusetts Illegal College Basketball Betting Exceeds $100,000

Immediately, the MGC was stingy with the details of the illegal college basketball wagers. Over the past few days, though, some more context has trickled out. Bill Speros unpacked all of the violations for, which you can see below:

"The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Tuesday said MGM Springfield had taken wagers on the Harvard-Yale and Harvard-Brown men's basketball games played on Feb. 3-4. The violations were self-reported, according to State Sports Wagering Director Bruce Band. Patrons over 21 are allowed to legally wager in-person at the Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett, the Plainridge Park Casino (PPC) in Plainville, and the MGM Springfield.

"At Encore, one bet was taken on a Boston College-Notre Dame women's basketball game played on Feb. 2. Wagering was allowed from about 12:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. One bet was placed on the game's outcome as part of a $70, 5-leg parlay. Once Encore became aware of the bet, it voided the BC-Notre Dame leg of the parlay. The lapse, according to Encore, was caused by a vendor (GAN), which failed to lock out in-state women's basketball from the casino's catalog of markets. Illegal wagering on a Merrimack College men's game against Long Island University on Feb. 2 was allowed for about seven hours at PPC, the casino reported. Thirty-three bets on 27 tickets were made, totaling $6,848. The casino said $4,720 was won by bettors. PPC reported to the Commission that gaming vendor Kambi mistakenly assigned Merrimack College (located in North Andover) as a Florida school. The error was flagged and reported by a PPC employee."

This proved to be a costly mistake for some of the sportsbooks. Encore reported losing over $75,000 as a result of the mistake. WynnBet, meanwhile, did not provide a specific figure, but a source wound up telling that "one bettor won a significant amount of money on Jan. 31" and then "gave it back the [next] day or two."

The situation with WynnBet is unique. Customers typically aren't obligated to return winning wagers due to company errors. But because the wagers were illegal under Massachusetts betting law, both WynnBet and the bettor in question were subject to exposure. In this case, it is the prerogative of the state and sportsbook to recoup winnings. It isn't immediately clear whether Encore recollected any of the money they paid out on the illegal college basketball bets. March Madness Betting Illegal in Massachusetts?

On March 10, everyone in Massachusetts will be able to start placing bets online, and the push to crack a new market is already underway among odds providers. Many of the most highly reviewed online sportsbooks have licenses to operate in Massachusetts and are offering lucrative deposit bonuses and "free bets" for signing up. It is expected that hundreds of millions of dollars will be wagered online inside the state during the first week following the launch.

Yet, the latest news has shined a spotlight on a fuzzy aspect of Massachusetts online sports betting—and Massachusetts sports betting at large: Is betting on college basketball and, by extension, betting on the 2023 March Madness Tournament illegal?

The short answer: No. The longer answer: Not even close.

On the contrary, lawmakers pushed to meet a March 10 debut for Massachusetts online sports betting precisely so college basketball fans and sportsbook operators could capitalize on the rush to bet on March Madness. The tournament is scheduled to tip off on Tuesday, March 14, with the 20223 NCAA National Championship Game earmarked for Monday, April 3. Massachusetts residents can legally bet on the entire tournament using one of the best college basketball online betting sites or by visiting one of the state's three licensed brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.

Which College Basketball Wagers are Illegal Under Massachusetts Sports Betting Law?

It's understandable if you're confused. Three Massachusetts sportsbooks just self-reported accepting illegal college basketball wagers, but the state will allow March Madness betting? How's that possible?

Under the current sports betting laws in Massachusetts, only wagers on in-state college teams are deemed illegal. However, this doesn't mean you can't bet on a Massachusetts college basketball team during March Madness. In-state colleges are only off limits unless the schools are playing in a tournament with at least four teams and the results don't count toward the regular season.

This is why betting on the 2023 March Madness tournament is legal in Massachusetts. The final bracket features 64 teams, and the results have no bearing on the standings. This is college basketball's playoffs.

For anyone interested, it will work the same way when it comes to betting on NCAA football in Massachusetts. Placing a wager on Boston College to win a regular-season game would be illegal. But betting on Boston College to win a Bowl Game or the National Championship is perfectly allowed.

In reality, the rules are very simple. At the same time, Massachusetts should do a better job of communicating their policies, verbatim, to state residents. And retail sportsbooks must, without question, do a better job of cleaning up their errors, otherwise the MGC might be compelled to start doling out hefty fines in the future.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs: 

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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