Gaming Commission To Vote On MA Sports Betting Launch Timeline

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MA sports betting

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission finally will vote Thursday on potential MA sports betting launch dates in the Commonwealth. 

The MGC is set to vote for potential launch dates on both retail and online Massachusetts sports betting, an indication retail could go first. 

The meeting agenda also notes that general counsel will provide an overview of regulations necessary for this to occur. 

Temporary MA sports betting licenses still TBD

The Commonwealth still needs to overcome an issue with temporary licensure because of a legislative loophole before launching online sports betting. That issue, which the MGC acknowledged in a statement Friday, has caused frustration within the industry. 

Also on the meeting agenda: MA sports betting applications for operators, and a look at the scoring process. 

“The MGC will be making decisions on regulations, applications and the licensing process,” the Friday statement said. “All these decisions will directly impact the milestones that will lead to an ultimate launch of sports wagering in Massachusetts.”

License structure in MA before launch

MA can have up to 15 online sports betting operators. 

Retail casinos MGM Springfield (BetMGM), Encore Boston Harbor (WynnBet) and Plainridge Park (Barstool Sportsbook) received two online skins each. Meanwhile, racetracks Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park received one online skin each. 

That leaves up to seven “untethered” online MA sports betting licenses. They can be awarded by the MGC following a competitive process. 

Why temporary licenses are a problem

A provision written into the bill that allows temporary licenses has complicated matters.  That provision directs the MGC to award a temporary license to a “qualified gaming entity” that pays a $1 million fee, enabling it to operate in the state for up to one year. 

The MGC received interest from dozens of entities for the seven licenses, and potentially could have to shut down several of them in 6-12 months. 

“This presents consumer protections, as well as business operations issues for every stakeholder of Massachusetts wagering,” the statement reads. “The MGC has spent considerable effort navigating a model where the legislative intent, letter of the law and operational needs can be met.”

Operators: temporary licenses ‘untenable’

The MGC on Sept. 22 heard from operators regarding those issues at a roundtable hearing. 

“Most companies agreed. The way the law is written presents an untenable situation,” the statement reads. “Nearly universal was the desire to see a workable temporary license structure set up for those that, after meeting initial suitability, are determined to likely to receive a full license. 

“However, without a legislative fix to this now legally binding language, the MGC has few options to modify this section of the law.” 

What’s next before MA sports betting launch date

The MGC must overcome these various hurdles. Those have called into question whether the Commonwealth will have legal online sports betting during the 2022 NFL season. 

Some in the industry have noted the MA regulator, chaired by Cathy Judd-Stein, prefers to do things by the book. The majority of online Massachusetts sports betting operators prefer a universal start date.

With the exception of DraftKings, operators were accepting of a retail sports betting launch before online. The Boston-based company does not have a retail presence in the Commonwealth and would be at a disadvantage against brick-and-mortar shops.