Former Raynham Dog Track in Struggle to Enter Sports Betting
The fate of sports betting at the former dog track in Raynham is up in the air as its owners search for yet another betting company to run the sportsbook they are building and after state gambling overseers declined Monday to opine on the venture's suitability without knowing who will be running the operation.
In preliminary reports from its investigators and comments from commissioners at lengthy public meetings and private sessions, the Mass. Gaming Commission has signaled that it has questions about whether Massasoit Greyhound Association (MGA), the business entity behind Raynham Park, is suitable to hold a sports betting license in Massachusetts. The state's year-old sports wagering law created a category of license specifically for simulcast centers like Raynham Park. The only other facility eligible for that category of license, Suffolk Downs, has not yet submitted an application to the commission.
MGA has acknowledged some issues with its plans and application materials as initially submitted, and moved to make the changes it feels are required to secure the commission's blessing to keep its sports betting business idea afloat, most significantly removing its originally-proposed chief operating officer from the application entirely.
But word of another existential issue came to light Friday: amid the protracted review from regulators, Caesars Sportsbook backed out of the agreement it had to operate the Raynham sportsbook, MGA and the commission said. The first company that MGA had partnered with, bet365, walked away earlier this year.
An attorney for MGA asked Monday that the commission consider its decades of experience as a dog track and simulcast center and issue a finding that the company is preliminarily suitable to take bets in Massachusetts as long as it makes the major changes it has said it will and finds another betting company to run the operation.
"We do recognize that the operating agreement provides a gap, right, and we're saying we can and expect to put that back together. And we don't want the commission to do anything more but give us this conditional approval -- which it can do -- based on that actually occurring," Jed Nosal, a former assistant attorney general who is now a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson, said. "So if it never occurred ... if we couldn't come back to you with an operating agreement, we'd be done. We wouldn't ever be able to meet that [financial] suitability requirement. So we expect that that is a necessity, I think as you do. And we expect that we would only be able to move forward, in fact, if we got that piece put back in place."
The agreement with Caesars is terminated, but Nosal said "there's a high likelihood that a new agreement can be entered into if we can get through these first two issues, including the removal of Chris Carney and a preliminary determination of suitability."
"After the removal, we believe we do meet the requirements for preliminary licensure as applied to all the other sports wagering licensees," he said.
It was the second part of MGA's request as described by Nosal that proved to be the sticking point Monday. Even after approving the requests to essentially take Christopher Carney, the son of longtime Raynham Park owner George Carney, out of the picture, most commissioners said they were not comfortable moving forward and granting MGA a finding of preliminary suitability without a sportsbook operator being identified.
"Generally, I'm interested in preserving and expanding the long-standing family and community institution that is MGA with the appropriate guardrails in place to address some of the issues that we've heard about today, particularly around credibility and financial viability," Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said. "But I don't think I can do that in good faith. I don't think I could grant preliminary suitability today in the absence of the identification of an operator who was ready, willing and able to step in here at this point in time."
Nosal told commissioners that MGA has a "potential partner" lined up, but that that company has said that "they won't go forward with us unless we have some determination on preliminary suitability" from the Gaming Commission.
"With the removal of the trust and the removal of Chris Carney as qualifiers, it still proposes a huge challenge for us to go into the marketplace after two days of public hearings about questions on MGA suitability and find a partner," Nosal said.
He added, "So, we're stuck."
Nosal said the MGA staff would regroup and digest everything that happened and was said at Monday's meeting, but he also suggested that the commission's decisions Monday could have spelled the end of the line for MGA's application.
"Obviously, I don't have an answer as to timing on next steps or, to be quite frank, whether there will be any," he said.
Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said she was disappointed with the outcome of Monday's meeting and said she would have liked the commission to agree to MGA's request.
"I had hoped that we could perhaps move forward and in the vein that you requested, MGA," she said after it became clear that a majority of the five-member commission was not ready to deem the company preliminarily suitable Monday.
The chairwoman emphasized her displeasure at the end of Monday's meeting -- she cast the lone vote against adjourning the seven-hour meeting.
The removal of Chris Carney from the MGA application was debated by the commission at length during Monday's meeting. Commissioners twice went into executive session to privately discuss sensitive details.
MGA originally planned to make Chris Carney the chief operating officer of its sports betting company. As such, he would be a "qualifier" who must be found suitable in order for Gaming Commission to approve the company's application. The company said it named him as its COO after the Gaming Commission had already indicated that Chris Carney would be considered a qualifier because he was the beneficiary of a trust that owned 40 percent of the stock in MGA.
A series of issues related to Chris Carney came to light as the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau began its initial review, including Mass. Department of Environmental Protection enforcement actions against a recycling company he owns that were not disclosed. Nosal said the decision to seek the withdrawal of Chris Carney was made "with the knowledge that errors were made with Christopher Carney's application and the IEB was focused intently on his recycling business practices."
The Gaming Commission also learned, by pulling a public filing with the secretary of state's office, that Chris Carney was listed as a vice president of MGA for parts of 2020 and 2021 despite MGA telling the commission that he had never been an officer of the company.
Nosal said Chris Carney was listed as a vice president in a statement of change document filed on Sept. 14, 2020 as part of a proposed management structure that was never implemented. "He wasn't paid in that position, didn't carry out duties in that position, and it was effectively eliminated" when MGA filed its next annual report about six months later, he said.
"It wasn't intentional, wanton or reckless, and it wasn't intended to mislead in any way," Nosal said. "We certainly regret the error and we shouldn't have stated to the commission that Christopher Carney was never an officer of MGA when -- based on that filing although it was just a preliminary and temporary, excuse me, a proposed management structure -- he was listed as an officer from Sept. 14, 2020 to April 13 of 2021."
Chris Carney's trust has since divested from MGA, attorneys for the trust and company said Monday. They also said Monday that they would be willing to have one of the two trustees, MGA's CFO Joe Cappucci, resign to eliminate another connection between the company and Chris Carney.
The commission ultimately voted 4-1 (with Commissioner Eileen O'Brien dissenting) to allow MGA to withdraw Chris Carney from the application and voted to allow MGA to withdraw Chris Carney's trust as well.
The commission attached several conditions, including that Chris Carney have no ability to influence the sportsbook's operations through communication with staff or family members involved in the venture, that Chris Carney be barred from serving as an MGA officer or director in the future, that Chris Carney not hold himself out as someone with decision-making power at the sportsbook, that Chris Carney fully cooperate with commission investigators, and that Chris Carney severs all business ties with MGA, including an arrangement under which one of his companies plows MGA's parking lots in the winter.
— Colin A. Young, State House News Service