Indications from Thursday’s Massachusetts Gaming Commission meeting suggest that the first sports bets could take place in the Bay State toward the end of the upcoming NFL season.
The MGC, which met for the first since lawmakers reached a compromise early Monday morning to launch sports betting in Massachusetts, is waiting for Gov. Charlie Baker to put pen to paper.
How soon commonwealth residents will be able to place legal sports bets is an open question. More clarity is expected down the road. Commissioners, however, preached patience Thursday for the process.
“I want the public to understand, as we as commissioners are starting to understand, that this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” MGC Commissioner Bradford Hill said Thursday. “I’ve seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time. And I just want the public to be clear, at least from my view, I’m not speaking for the whole commission, but from my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate. And I’m OK with that.”
Few Mass. sports betting timeline clues revealed Thursday
While no one talked specifically about dates Thursday, onlookers can read between the lines regarding what to expect.
Commissioners are working with a draft timeline of about five months for the licensing process. This can adjust throughout the process, however. MGC staff presented the timeline, and executive assistant Jaclynn Knecht also said the application process could take three to six months, based on processes observed from other states.
However, licensing will not begin until after Baker signs the legislation. He has 10 days to do so since lawmakers reached an end-of-session compromise Monday.
The NFL’s regular season ends Jan. 8, 2023 — five months from this coming Monday. The Super Bowl is 35 days after that: Feb. 12, 2023.
The application process timeline calls for amended/final applications to be turned in five months after the applications are posted, then for the awarding of licenses at the next MGC meeting. During those months, stakeholders will ask questions, turn in applications and make oral presentations to commissioners about their applications.
The competitive process for seven untethered mobile licenses — a matter discussed by commissioners Thursday — complicates matters slightly.
MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein added a note of optimism, saying:
“We’ve been busy preparing, and that does put us in a position that makes us ahead of the game already. That’s the good news. With that, we won’t compromise the integrity of gaming and the quality of product that we are regulating. And I know that every licensee that’s given that fearless privilege here in Massachusetts will echo that.”
MGC plans to create, hire for sports wagering division
Among topics discussed Thursday was potential revisions to the current Massachusetts Organizational Chart and the prospect of appointing a chief of sports wagering for a new division.
Fortunately, interested parties already are familiar with the range of information expected for application. This means potential licensees already can begin compiling necessary information in order to initiate the process and prevent additional delay.
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien reiterated the importance of creating a sports wagering environment consistent with the rest of the nation, saying:
“This is a process. And the suitability, the vetting of the applicants, and making sure the rules and regulations are accurate and appropriate to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth is critical to the mission. So we will move expeditiously — if and when this is signed — but we will do it in a manner that is consistent with our responsibilities as a regulatory body.”
Retail versus online sports betting launch timeline
Commissioner Karen Wells noted the timeline for implementing regulations undoubtedly will vary for retail and mobile sportsbooks.
The process of retail licensure will be relatively straightforward; Massachusetts’ five retail gaming locations each will receive a license so long as they qualify. In addition, the state’s three casinos can partner with two online operators. The pair of simulcast facilities can only join with one.
Mobile licensing, on the other hand, will be a competitive process since only seven additional licenses are available to interested operators.
As such, the commission discussed the idea of instating a temporary license to qualified applicants. Ideally, this would expedite the process until permanent regulations are in place. Commissioner Hill’s concern centered around Massachusetts’ current standards of operation. He noted his hesitation about the MGC lowering its requirement standards in order to issue temporary licenses to applicants.
Commissioner O’Brien agreed that the same suitability standards should apply across the board, noting:
“While we are going to move quickly, we are not going to be lowering our standards in any way. . . . In my view, there’s no reduction in suitability standards as far as I’m concerned.”
Next steps to sports betting launch in Massachusetts
The MGC’s timeline remains relatively tentative until certain aspects, such as the Massachusetts sports betting bill’s official approval, become more defined.
Regardless, the MGC stressed the need for having a proper team in place well before launch. The commission also emphasized the importance of full transparency and public input throughout the process.
Next on the timeline, the MGC looks to convene via a series of public roundtables. The first will feature representatives from Massachusetts’ five retail gaming locations to discuss their potential plans for launch, suggesting that retail sports betting could be available in the state before online wagering debuts.
The particular date for this upcoming roundtable will depend on how quickly the governor takes action on the state’s proposed sports betting bill.
Meanwhile, the MGC intends to continue studying fellow jurisdictions in order to implement the best practices throughout the licensing process.