Massachusetts LIV Golf Betting Off the Table, DraftKing’s Proposal Rejected by Regulators
In a unanimous decision on Tuesday night, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) rejected a proposal from national operator DraftKings to include betting on LIV Golf events.
The decision was influenced by concerns over the financial backing of the LIV league, which is owned and financed by the Saudi Arabian government through its Public Investment Fund.
In recent years, many oil-rich Middle Eastern nations have been investing in global sports leagues and tournaments to diversify their economy and enhance their global reputation.
However, that has often come at some controversy within the Western sporting world.
Saudi Arabia’s connections to the 9/11 attacks and its track record of human rights abuses have made its investment unpopular with some U.S. golf fans.
Previously, LIV also competed directly with the PGA Tour, the long-standing golf authority and league that is a U.S. institution. Last year, the two proposed a controversial merger, which is now being debated in the Senate.
The MGC, though, has decided its stance on the issue for now.
“For a lot of the reasons that are in the press in terms of the financial backing of the LIV league, to me, I’d feel uncomfortable putting this in our catalog,” said MGC Commissioner Eileen O’Brien.
Senate Hearing Probes Merger
The decision by the MGC comes amidst a Senate hearing into the planned merger between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Tour.
PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price defended the merger, stating that their goal is to protect the business in the long-term.
However, skeptics of the deal are questioning the nature of the Saudi influence – and whether the merger should jeopardize the PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) emphasized that the hearing was about more than just golf.
“It’s about how a brutal repressive regime can buy into and indeed even take over a cherished American institution,” he said, as reported by CBS News.
Despite the controversy, some argue that it’s unfair to expect the PGA Tour to bear the full burden of holding Saudi Arabia accountable.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) noted that anyone who drives a car or uses oil-based products has helped fill the coffers of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the funders of the LIV Tour.
Still, the topic remains an emotional one for some sports fans.
Last year, a group of more than 2,500 9/11 survivors and bereaved family members posted an open letter in support of PGA golfers who had refused big money contracts from LIV.
“Thank you for resisting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to cleanse its reputation by buying off professional athletes,” the letter said.
Regulator not Afraid to Make Big Calls
While the MGC has unanimously voted to exclude state bettors from LIV Golf Wagers for now, there is a possibility for operators to bring the issue to the commission again in the future.
If the proposed merger passes politicians and potentially the courts, the MGC would be required to reconsider its decision.
The deal is by no means off the table, either. The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations this week released emails documenting the behind-the-scenes maneuvering as the leagues continue efforts to put the merger together.
Massachusetts regulators have demonstrated they are not afraid to make big calls, whatever happens. Despite recently losing its director and hiring an interim replacement, the MGC has been busy in the past few months.
Last month, it imposed new rules for sports betting adverts in stadiums, and then it also took Boston-founded operator Barstool Sports to task over the specific language used in its promotional bet advertisements.