Five retail venues

Massachusetts regulators to hold first roundtable with land-based sports betting stakeholders Thursday

Encore Boston Harbor, one of Massachusetts' three land-based gaming venues.
2022-08-16
Reading time 3:42 min

Gaming regulators in Massachusetts are set to sit down with the state’s gaming interests this Thursday –including casinos, simulcast centers and slots parlors– to discuss their plans for the upcoming sports betting market. Wagering on sporting events was passed by lawmakers earlier this month through a last-minute compromise as formal sessions reached their end, a move Sen. Eric Lesser said in a new interview is set to allow the Bay State to catch up with its neighbors.

The new gaming law, which was signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last week, calls for a framework that includes two main categories: in-person betting licenses (plus mobile allowances) for the state’s two casinos, two simulcast centers and one slots parlor; and up to seven separate mobile-only betting licenses to be handed through a bidding process.

Given that land-based venues are entities the Massachusetts Gaming Commission already licenses and knows well, they could potentially be the first to launch sports betting. Additionally, many of them have long pushed for legalization, and facilities such as Encore and MGM have the resources to set up their operations quickly.

“So in terms of timing, are we addressing those facilities first and then dealing with the seven other licenses?,” asked Commissioner Brad Hill in a recent meeting, according to Boston Business Journal. “I would think [...] that we would want to get up and running as quickly as possible the five entities that are already here – but does that get us in trouble if we give them five and then we take our time with the other seven?”


Commissioner Brad Hill

For now, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said regulators are set to meet Thursday with just the five retail licensees: Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park. That will be the first in a series of roundtable discussions to talk about the process moving forward.

Judd-Stein said the first roundtable will only feature the existing licensees “because they are positioned differently,” as reported by the cited source. "My recommendation [...] is to kind of do it simultaneously where the licensees that are doing in-person, they can be stood up for retail but at the same time working on the mobile operators because our current licensees are going to be very interested in the mobile op," she said.

On a similar note, Executive Director Karen Wells said last week that her thinking had been to try to pursue both in-person and mobile betting on parallel tracks as much as possible. She further unveiled the commission's plans to request a notice of intent from companies interested in pursuing the mobile-only licenses so that staff can get a sense of how many potential applicants there could be.

At the same time, commission staff is also planning to start developing regulations related to vendor licensing requirements. According to Wells, the Legislature has crafted the sports betting bill in a way that ensures there will be the resources for the commission “to get this done quickly.” However, a launch date still remains uncertain.


Executive Director Karen Wells

While legislators initially said sports betting could be up and running by the NFL’s season kickoff this fall, the state Gaming Commission recently pumped the brakes on these expectations, warning that implementing the law could be a months-long process. Many have suggested it could potentially take until 2023 before Massachusetts residents can place bets.

Despite the wait, sports betting has been regarded as a welcome addition to Massachusetts’ gaming industry, allowing it to catch up with its neighbors. In a recent interview with Bookies.com, state Sen. Eric Lesser, who was part of the six-member conference committee that crafted the compromise law, discussed the new law’s main features and benefits.

“First, it catches us up with the states all around us, which is important. Second, it just provides a new way for people to engage with their teams, and to have fun with sports,” Lesser commented. “It also opens up a whole new industry for Massachusetts, which will hopefully drive some job creation, and also creates innovation.”


State Sen. Eric Lesser

The state Senator says that given Massachusetts is home to sports betting giant DraftKings, the new law could also help lead to more investment in the sports tech sector. However, Lesser failed to provide a precise expected date for the sports betting launch, stating that it falls in the commission’s court in terms of issuing the licenses and running the process.

“We ended up in a good place that took the best elements of both bills,” Lesser further said in regards to the compromise between the Senate and House versions. “We're going to have a competitive environment with a lot of different licenses, different types of licenses being issued. Which will mean more competition among the providers, among the operators, which will, I think, lead to a better product and a better experience for consumers.”

Massachusetts’ neighbors, including New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, all have online sports betting. Bay State legislators took a close look at them, in addition to New Jersey, to craft their bill, Lesser said. “The most important thing is we're going to have a good ecosystem, a good product, with a lot of different options for people, which I think is going to lead to a better experience for customers,” he told Bookies.com.

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