Launch date still to be announced

Massachusetts gaming venues eager to start sports betting as regulators explore universal launch date, gauge interest for mobile

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells.
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Massachusetts gaming regulators and representatives from licensed gambling entities operating in the state sat down on Thursday to discuss the upcoming sports betting market launch. The parties addressed a range of issues, from initial preparations to kiosks placement and responsible gaming. But most importantly, the five licensees expressed their eagerness to launch, with some of them saying they are ready to go as soon as a regulatory framework is set.

However, before casinos and simulcasting facilities can start offering sports gaming, state officials must first finalize regulations and come up with a launch date. Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission heard Thursday that the venues are mostly ready to move with sports betting, at least on a retail basis, with the market finally starting to take shape.

MGM Springfield Vice President and Legal Counsel Augustine Kim said the casino can start offering the new vertical within 90 days of when commissioners finalize regulations, reports, pointing to millions already invested into a brand new sports betting lounge.

“It is a matter of just getting the kiosks and getting them tested, getting them approved, and getting them hooked up,” Kim told gaming commissioners. “We don’t have any milestones that we necessarily need to hit in order to start. As soon as we have the approval [...] I think we can probably be ready to go within a matter of 90 days.”

Encore Boston Harbor echoed this sentiment of eagerness to launch, with Senior Vice President Jacqui Krum stating that once a launch date is set, the venue can immediately begin the hiring and licensing process, according to the cited source.

“We’ve already completed the construction and are currently operating the WynnBET sports bar, which is already a popular place for viewing purposes,” Krum said. “We are very excited to take this to the next step and open up the wickets for wagers. We know that this is going to attract new customers, and we’re looking at every location within our facility to best serve our guests.”

Elsewhere in the reunion, commissioners heard from Plainridge Park Casino General Manager North Grounsell that a firm launch date, promulgation of rules around technical standards and more clarity on licensing would help the venue move the quickest. The casino would explore whether to open a temporary facility ahead of a permanent one, which would allow it to launch wagering at a time that fits in with the regulatory framework the commission has.

But state gaming interests also campaigned in favor of a single launch date for sports betting, which would then allow them to act based on that timeframe. Grounsell was among stakeholders in favor of that plan, although he called for a balance, given that if most venues are ready to go, it would be unreasonable to hold everyone up because another property isn’t. 

Encore Boston Harbor

Encore Boston Harbor’s Krum said a universal launch date would create “a level playing field,” although she said she understood it couldn’t be set until the commission is further along in the process. While commissioners hinted they may opt for the single launch date, they warned it will take “some time” to get there, and asked for patience as they move through the process.

Commission Executive Director Karen Wells added the regulation process will dictate any timeline, MassLive further reports, given it has some “built-in waiting periods” for comments. Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein added that staff will present on September 8 a timeline for “where regulation action, whether it’s emergency or otherwise, could start.”

Horse racing and simulcasting locations, including Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park, were also present at this week’s reunion, stating they could potentially double the number of employees working at their facilities. Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said the property envisioned a new “state-of-the-art, retail sports betting and simulcast location that would be anywhere from 20 to 30,000 square feet.”

Hiring seems to be a plan for all properties, with Krum saying Encore Boston Harbor is looking to hire an additional 75 employees, most focused on food and beverage; while Grounsell explained Plainridge Park Casino would look to hire a sports betting department head and additional team members, among other positions that could range from 20 to 50 people.

Massachusetts lawmakers forwarded a sports betting bill to Gov. Charlie Baker just ahead of the legislature’s adjournment for the year, on August 1. The governor signed it into law last week, with Massachusetts officially joining more than 30 other states in legalizing sports gambling.

While Thursday’s meeting made up the universe of potential applicants for the Category 1 and Category 2 licenses created in the betting law, regulators can also issue up to seven Category 3 licenses that would allow a company to take wagers through a mobile or digital platform. Commissioners said they want to get a better sense of the work ahead of them for this segment.

On Wednesday, regulators released a “notice of intent” asking that any company interested in any category of license let the Gaming Commission know by August 31. “As the MGC continues to work to regulate and stand-up sports wagering in Massachusetts, the MGC is requesting that any entity interested in obtaining a sports wagering license to submit this Notice of Intent so a landscape of interest in sports wagering licenses can come into focus," the commission said. 

The number and scope of responses could inform or influence the commission's decision about how to proceed with the implementation of sports betting in the Bay State, reports NBC Boston.