NJ Gaming Enforcement Division Lays It on the Line in Seeking to Guide Sportsbooks
New Jersey sports betting operators received $6 billion in bets in 2020 (with nearly a $1 billion handle in December alone, mostly from mobile betting), representing a yearly record for a licensed state sports betting market. With the New York state legislature currently debating proposals for mobile sports betting within its borders, it would seem unclear whether New Jersey could match its sports betting handle in 2021 if its neighbor across the river goes online. What is certain, however, is that when successful bettors wish to withdraw winnings from their mobile bankroll into their terrestrial bank accounts instead of letting it ride, they want to receive their funds as efficiently as possible. Responding to allegations from patrons that some sports betting operators sought to dissuade customers from withdrawing funds out of their gaming accounts and to instead make new wagers, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, Division of Gaming Enforcement (the "Division") released an Advisory Bulletin on January 13, 2021, stating, straight up, that sports betting operators are prohibited from soliciting or incentivizing patrons to rescind withdrawals requests that are "pending."
According to the Bulletin, the Division received complaints from patrons about delays in withdrawals from online gaming accounts, as well as "delaying tactics" where customer service representatives told bettors inquiring about pending withdrawals that the process takes time but if the patron rescinded the request, such funds would be available immediately for wagering and, in some cases, the operator might offer a bonus incentive to the player. While operators must undertake certain anti-money laundering and anti-fraud protections before releasing winnings to patrons, the Division decided, in light of the complaints, to undertake a review of regulations and operator practices concerning a patron's right to access their funds as balanced against an operator's concerns over responsible controls. After noting various state gaming regulations (e.g., N.J.A.C. 13:69D-1.24, which, according to the Bulletin, requires a patron's retail depository account to be credited with funds immediately upon verification of identity), the Division determined that the current rules, taken together, "prohibit the practice of soliciting, either overtly or covertly, the rescission or reversal of withdrawals once requested by a patron."
As such, the Division found that solicitation of patrons to reinvest withdrawals led to delays in processing and were inconsistent with the regulations. Thus, the Division determined that the regulations prohibited funds subject to a pending withdrawal to be re-deposited to a gaming account if such action was solicited or incentivized by an operator – in fact, the Bulletin states that "it would be an aggravating factor in any penalty proceeding for patrons to be offered bonus money or other incentives to reverse a withdrawal request."
The Division noted certain exceptions to the right of a patron to receive funds as expeditiously as possible: (1) delays caused by a failure of a patron to provide adequate documentation needed to process a withdrawal; (2) delays caused by an operator's reasonable efforts to prevent fraud, collusion and money laundering; and (3) a patron's independent decision to rescind a pending withdrawal. If such decision was not "covertly influenced by an operator." The Bulletin goes on to state that any contact by an operator with a patron during the pendency of a withdrawal request will be "scrutinized" to determine whether the communication is consistent with the Bulletin and applicable regulations, with the Division making a point that an operator that "improperly encouraged or incentivized" a patron to reverse pending withdrawals for the purpose of making new wagers would be a favorite for a possible enforcement action by the Division.
Given the licensing and tax money at stake, it is not surprising that New Jersey regulators have responded in this way to what it deemed a pattern of bettor complaints. It is also worth noting that the Division decided to issue guidance to announce its interpretation of the issue, as opposed to undertaking an investigation into a single operator, sending a message to all sportsbooks to take certain withdrawal request procedures off the board in order to comply with the existing state licensing regime or else face a parlay of potential fines and scrutiny.