New industry to not "happen overnight"

Massachusetts sports betting may not launch until 2023; regulator plans roundtables with stakeholders, new division

Massachusetts Gaming Commissioner Brad Hill.
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Sports betting in Massachusetts may not go live until 2023, according to the state’s regulator. Lawmakers reached a last-minute compromise to legalize the activity earlier this week, and while some legislators suggested the market could be in place for the fall football season, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has now pumped the brakes on these expectations.

As of now, legislation permitting sports betting in the Bay State is still pending on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, who has until August 11 to act on it, with approval expected to occur. During a virtual public meeting, gaming commissioners warned there are hurdles to be cleared before residents can start betting, highlighting the amount of regulatory work that needs to be done.

Tempering expectations, Commissioner Brad Hill said he wants the public to understand that implementing a new wagering industry will not “happen overnight,” and that in order for the state to get it right, regulators need “to take our time.”

“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,” the former state representative said, according to the Boston Herald. “From my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate. And I’m ok with that.”

Brad Hill

Legislators in the Bay State came through with a last-minute deal on sports betting early Monday morning, as the end of formal lawmaking for the session came to a close. The bill allows wagering on professional sports and some collegiate events. In-person wagering will be taxed at 15% while betting via mobile applications sees a 20% rate

Negotiators decided to uphold a Senate proposal to not allow credit cards for betting, while shooting down a whistle-to-whistle ban on sports wagering advertising during live broadcasts. Casinos and racetracks will receive sports betting licenses, and there will also be seven online sports betting licenses.

All eyes have been on Gov. Baker since the Legislature voted the bill through, and while he is expected to sign it, there are no indications on when he may do so. In the meantime, two state senators who led the push for legalization said earlier this week that they hoped betting would be up and running this fall, just in time for football, according to MassLive.

However, the Gaming Commission’s Thursday meeting hints the process may take months, potentially stretching into next year. Commissioner Jordan Maynard said that while the commission’s staff has been preparing for sports betting, they are going to have to look at the legislation, which is going “to take some time” to do.

Gov. Charlie Baker is expected to sign the bill into law

The process does not only involve licensing but also certification. The Gaming Commission staff has now started to outline an application process for potential licensees, with timeline estimates ranging from three to six months. But while the application process could only take a few months, it is ultimately dependent on what commissioners want to include in an application.

“There are some jurisdictions that do it simply on the application that is submitted, there are some that offer each applicant a potential oral presentation to present their entire application,” said Executive Assistant Jaclynn Knecht, as per the cited source. “The general consensus on the application timeline is somewhere between three and six months for each jurisdiction.”

But in addition to outlining the application process for licenses, the commission is also set to draft and issue a list of potential regulations, which are to serve as a how-to manual for sports wagering companies. Deputy General Counsel Caitlin Monahan said attorneys at the commission have come up with 225 different potential regulations.

These provisions cover a vast array of issues, from how wagers are submitted to technology standards and specifics on the application process. Given the extensive list, lawyers have created a three-tier system to prioritize which regulations should be addressed first.

MGC Executive Director Karen Wells

Also on Thursday, commissioners stated that the regulator should not compromise its “integrity standards” in an attempt to get the process up and running more quickly, and the commission voted unanimously to create a new sports wagering division, according to Boston Herald. MGC Executive Director Karen Wells said she is seeking to hire a chief to lead that division.

Once sports betting is signed into law, MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said she plans to convene a roundtable discussion with the state’s key gaming stakeholdersEncore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, Plainridge Park Casino, Raynham Park, and Suffolk Downs – to hear their plans for the upcoming market.

Casino interests in the state had previously made a push for sports betting legalization, arguing that the current prohibition is negatively affecting their businesses.