Is Slow Massachusetts Sports Betting Rollout Because Of Mistake In Legislation?

Written By Matthew Waters on September 15, 2022
Error Massachusetts sports betting

The Massachusetts legislature may not have crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s in the MA sports betting bill.

HB 5164, put no cap on the number of temporary licenses that can be handed out and there is a very low bar to qualify. That is the main reason why there is still no timeline for when Massachusetts sportsbooks may launch, commissioners explained at Thursday’s meeting.

That meant, despite Commissioner Bradford Hill’s pleading, a timeline was not given Thursday. That may not come until after Sept. 22’s roundtable with mobile sports betting operators.

“Part of the reason we can’t give those dates, quite frankly, is the topic that’s taken up the bulk of our time this morning,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said. “If we didn’t have to deal with that, we would be closer to the time that you’re talking about and being able to give a timeline.”

Hill requests, does not get launch timeline

Sports betting fans in Massachusetts got some representation, finally, when Hill asked the big question:

“What’s the timing on all this? We must have, at some point now after having this before us, some indication of what we are talking about for timing? I’ve been frustrated that I can’t myself figure out what that would be. Do we have an answer for that today?

“…The public really wants to know. Can we give them an expectation? Is that something we can do soon? I think it’s fair that if we can do that we do that.”

More work must be done before that timeline is available, though.

Issue within MA sports betting bill

The big issue is not specifying how many temporary licenses can be handed out.

“C1. A qualified gaming entity may submit to the commission a request for a temporary license for the immediate commencement of sports wagering operations. Such request shall include an initial licensing fee of $1,000,000 payable to the commission.

“2. Upon receiving a request for a temporary license, the executive director of the commission shall review the request. If the executive director determines that the entity requesting the temporary license is a qualified gaming entity and has paid the sports wagering initial licensing fee pursuant to paragraph (1), the commission shall authorize the qualified gaming entity to conduct sports wagering for a period of 1 year under a temporary license or until a final determination on its operator license application is made.

Essentially, any QGE that applies for a temporary license and pays the $1 million fee must be approved to launch. Given more than three dozen companies are interested in sports betting with just seven competitive licenses available, that could leave the MGC with many sportsbooks to shut down on temporary licenses.

Qualified gaming entity definition is wide open

Compounding the issue further is the definition of “qualified gaming entity” in HB 5164. A company is defined as a QGE if it is a casino operator, a horse track or simulcast operator, or:

(iii) offers an interactive sports wagering platform through a mobile application or other digital platform.

That means an online sportsbook is a QGE by definition. That means any company that operates an online sportsbook could receive a temporary license with payment.

Multiple members of the legislative committee that negotiated the final MA sports betting bill did not respond to LSR‘s requests for comment.

Questions set for online MA sports betting meeting

Commissioners want answers on two questions from anyone attending next Thursday’s meeting.

  1. Are operators interested in a temporary license knowing they might have to shut down without a full license?
  2. What is your position on a staggered launch vs. simultaneous launch? That includes retail vs. mobile and tethered vs. untethered.
Photo by Charles Krupa / The Associated Press
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Matthew Waters

Matthew Waters is a reporter covering legal sports betting and the gambling industry. Previous stops include Fantini Research and various freelance jobs covering professional and amateur sports in Delaware and the Philadelphia area.

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