After years of debate on sports betting in Massachusetts, state lawmakers finally passed a bill to legalize the activity in August. However, on the cusp of 2023, MA residents are still waiting to place bets on games. Regulators are scrambling to formulate rules and approve operators who want to offer retail and online sports wagering.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), the regulatory body in charge of creating rules for sports betting in the Commonwealth, announced on Dec. 21 that it intends to allow retail sports betting beginning Jan. 31, 2023. This would give football fans about a week and a half to place bets before the Super Bowl on Feb. 12.
(Online sports betting is expected to follow in March 2023.)
Before MA retail sports betting can go live, the MGC must ensure several complex prerequisites are met.
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Creating a Sound Regulatory Framework
For months, the MGC has held open meetings weekly to hammer out the details of approximately 225 regulations in the Massachusetts Code specifically related to sports betting.
The process has been tedious, tense, and sometimes fraught with outright hostility. Commissioners have argued over details such as the timeline to launch sports betting, safeguards to prevent underage gambling inside casinos, and minute details like the exact locations of sports betting kiosks inside casinos.
In the process, MGC lawyers have scrambled to make weekly changes and copious edits to the regulations. The rules continue to evolve as commissioners race to meet the end-of-January target for launching retail sports wagering at the state’s three casinos and hammer out guidelines for the anticipated launch of online sports betting in March.
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Casinos Must Meet Conditions
The MGC approved Category 1 retail sports betting licenses for the state’s three casinos in December with unanimous votes. Each approval came with specific conditions for each casino to meet for the licenses to become permanent.
Encore Boston Harbor
Encore Boston Harbor, the state’s most profitable casino, had the most straightforward approval process and was the first to obtain a retail sportsbook license from the MGC. The casino, recently purchased by San Diego-based Realty Income Corporation, received its license Dec. 8.
Encore Boston Harbor must obtain a certificate of operations and satisfy “additional conditions” before gamblers can begin placing in-person bets.
MGM Springfield was the second casino to receive a sports wagering operator license. The MGC delayed its vote on the casino’s application because of a late submission.
MGM Springfield’s legal counsel submitted its application for a Category 1 license two days late and failed to include enough information about its retail sports betting plans. It instead focused on its online betting partner BetMGM.
Nevertheless, nearly two weeks later, the MGC approved the casino for a retail and online sports wagering license with the following conditions:
- Provide the MGC with “timely and ongoing updates regarding any developments to two confidential investigations first reported to the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau on Dec. 16, 2022.”
- Submit a vendor diversity list to the MGC.
- Obtain an operations certificate and meet additional conditions.
The Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) is the law enforcement arm of the MGC.
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Plainridge Park Casino (PPC)
PPC, the last of the state’s casinos to receive conditional approval for a retail sportsbook, has the steepest hill to climb on the road to a permanent license.
Like it did with MGM Springfield, the MGC delayed PPC’s approval. But for different reasons.
PPC is under investigation in a probe that commenced in February when the MGC began monitoring the casino’s relationship with Barstool Sports. PENN Gaming operates PPC and has a 36% ownership stake in Barstool Sports, which is under scrutiny. Allegations of sexual misconduct, hostile working conditions for women and minorities, and gambling misdeeds surfaced in recent years, leading to legal action against Barstool Sports owner Dave Portnoy.
As a result, the MGC added language to PPC’s approval voicing that the casino is “preliminarily suitable for a temporary Category 1 sports wagering operator license.”
Before PPC can offer retail sports betting, it must fully cooperate with the IEB, “which will conduct an investigation of Barstool Sports, Inc. in connection with the licensee’s branding.”
In addition, the MGC “required that the licensee agrees that no persons under the age of 21 will be permitted entrance into any live Barstool College Football Show events.”
The Last Hurdle: Technical Testing
Even if the casinos meet the conditions set by the MGC, they must satisfy technical testing requirements before taking sports wagers.
“Our goal with this process is to make sure that such sports wagering is introduced correctly, operationally, and legally, for the benefit of integrity and consumer protection,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said in September.
The MGC has a full agenda with back-to-back weekday public meetings after the New Year to discuss applications for online sportsbooks while still hammering out final rules.
In the meantime, casinos must meet the MGC’s requirements and make sure their sports betting platforms satisfy technical testing.
If all goes well, state residents will be able to head to the nearest casino and place a bet for the Super Bowl.