Massachusetts Gaming Commission Votes to Hold Hearing over ESPN Bet Violation

USA Legal Betting


  • The MGC voted 4-0 to hold a hearing with ESPN and PENN
  • ESPN personality promoted a bet as a “risk-free investment”
  • PENN ran into a similar problem with Barstool

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is once again cracking down the marketing “risk-free” bets.

The MGC, which is the state’s top sports betting regulator, voted unanimously to hold a hearing over a marketing violation by ESPN Bet. The issue arose when ESPN on-air personality Rece Davis described a bet as a “risk-free investment” during a college basketball show. That comment violates the state’s rule around marketing, which bans the idea of “risk free” bets.

While the incident happened towards the end of March, the MGC decided just this week to finally hold an officially hearing. All four present members voted in favor of holding the hearing, which they will ask ESPN Bet and owner PENN Entertainment to join.

“It’s an area that I, as a commissioner, am concerned about, this cross-pollination between ESPN commentators, the lines and the betting, and the commentary that they make. I would like us to do a deep dive,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said during the meeting approving the hearing.

There is no date set for the hearing and neither ESPN nor PENN have commented on the decision.

PENN Once Again in Trouble With the MGC

One reason the MGC wants to continue to pursue this March violation is in part due to previous violations with a PENN-operated sportsbook. The sports betting giant previously ran the Barstool Sportsbook, which ESPN Bet replaced.

One reason Barstool decided to exit the sports betting market was a similar issue to the one ESPN currently faces. One of their media personalities, Dan “Big Cat,” Katz, offered a “can’t lose parlay.” PENN and Barstool argued that the personality was famous for betting, making the title of the parlay a joke that no one would take seriously.

The battle between the MGC and Barstool turned ugly, leading the media company to end its deal with PENN and exit the sports betting industry. However, the MGC continued to push Penn for answers even after the deal was ended. The issue caused some concern with the MGC when PENN announced they would be replacing Barstool with ESPN.

Even the launch of ESPN Bet was an issue with the MGC, which publicly lashed PENN for a lack of transparency. They continued to have concerns that an incident like the one involving ESPN would happen, and the company refused to share any plans to avoid it.

The MGC also cited PENN for taking around 249 basketball wagers on its betting sites for an unapproved league.

Tension Rising Between MGC and Operators

PENN is just the latest operator to dry the ire of the MGC. Just a couple of weeks ago, the regulator held a public discussion over the operator’s practices of limiting bettors. Accusations were that Massachusetts sportsbooks were limiting any bettors who were posting several wins, not just high-rollers and sharps.

All the states' online sportsbook operators were no-shows for the event, leaving the MGC feeling as if their time had been wasted. Some operators pointed to protecting trade secrets as a reason for skipping the event, but the MGC wasn’t buying it.

These tensions could lead to ESPN or PENN refusing to be dragged into another drawn-out investigation or the MGC handing down massive fines after the hearing.