Any specifics on the launch of sports betting in Massachusetts are several weeks or more away, regulators said at a recent meeting.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a 4.5-hour roundtable with the five operators eligible to open retail sportsbooks last Thursday. The commissioners wanted to hear what those operators needed in order to open their Massachusetts sportsbooks.
What they need the most, according to the three casinos, is a firm launch date. More details about that should come at a Sept. 8 meeting, but even then, it might not be a concrete date.
Can Massachusetts sports betting launch this year?
According to Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein, even the retail launch of sports betting could take until 2023.
It will be at least a 90-day process to get retail regulations approved without emergency regulations, she said.
It seems like the casinos may be the first to launch with the two simulcast facilities playing catch up. Raynham Park is in the middle of construction but may stop in order to get credit for the $7.5 million in upgrades required within three years by the simulcast facilities after receiving the sports betting license.
Suffolk Downs, meanwhile, does not know where it will be in 2024, as its lease is up in 2023. There should be more definitive details available soon, its COO Chip Tuttle said.
Launch date critical to plans, casinos said
The casino operators told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission knowing a launch timeline is critical to opening their retail MA sportsbooks.
“One of the things that we as an operator look for as we begin our preparations is an official launch date,” said North Grounsell, the GM at Penn Entertainment’s Plainridge Park. “That date’s important because it feeds a lot of other decisions operationally that need to be made in terms of when we will start construction, whether or not we will need a temporary location, the initiation of our recruiting efforts and the goal date for equipment delivery and a multitude of other operational decisions.”
Senior VP and General Counsel of Encore Boston Harbor Jacqui Krum agreed that timing is “critical” to Wynn‘s plans.
“Once we understand launch dates and how the launch will work, whether it is one at a time or all together, we can immediately proceed with hiring and licensing.”
Wynn wants kiosks where?
Much of the conversation Thursday was expected as the operators had discussed talking points with the commission prior to the meeting. There was one surprise from Wynn, though, that seemed to catch commissioners off guard.
“We’ve also, frankly, been looking at locations within our garage that might potentially be converted. I know,” Krum said and chuckled, acknowledging the reaction of commissioners off screen. “As you know we’ve been complaining about real estate for a while. So one of the thoughts is potentially creating a location within the garage which would obviously be cordoned off with security, appropriate security and surveillance.”
The space would be ideal for people that are only visiting to place bets, Krum said.
Promo deductions not yet decided
The Massachusetts sports betting bill was silent on whether promos could be deducted from taxable revenue. That leaves it up to the interpretation of the commission, staff said.
The five operators were relatively quiet when promo play was brought up on the agenda. That struck Commissioner Eileen O’Brien the wrong way.
“I’m actually a little taken aback by the reticence on this to be honest. It is absolutely something we as a commission have to dive into in greater detail and I was hoping to get some preliminary views from the licensees.
“So I’m somewhat taken aback by the silence but we can move forward in terms of looking at what other jurisdictions have done in terms of no credit whatsoever to phasing it in versus capping it at any given year. There are a lot of options in front of us. Or whether we read the statute to read there’s absolutely no place for an offset in the revenue for promo play.”
MGM: promo deductions important, especially at beginning
MGM‘s VP and Legal Counsel Gus Kim was quick to chime in after O’Brien finished:
“We are 100 percent behind giving as much credit to promo play as possible.”
O’Brien asked if that would be more important at the beginning of the market or later. If permanent deductions are improbable than at launch is more important, Kim replied.
PENN has “not been irrational investors in this area,” Grounsell said. Wynn feels “very strongly” about promo deductions but appreciates the regulators view it differently because of tax dollars, Krum said.
Does RSI have Massachusetts sports betting partner?
Rush Street Interactive slipped into their earnings presentation that the company has retail and mobile market access in Massachusetts. RSI has not commented on who that partner is.
It seems highly improbable one of the casinos would give up their own branding for their retail sportsbooks. That leaves one of the simulcast facilities as the only options, except both said they have not picked partners yet.
“We’ve had considerable interest in that regard, have heard from virtually all of the major operators in the US, all of whom seem very keen on potentially partnering with us,” Tuttle said. “We don’t have a firm decision on that yet but we will obviously keep the commission abreast of our conversations.”
“We have been, I’m sure as Suffolk Downs, deluged by the same usual suspects looking to partner with us,” said Steve Eichel of Raynham Park. “And so we have been having a number of calls with those players, discussing obviously on a very preliminary basis which one would be the ideal partner.”