Massachusetts Gaming Commission Mired In Dispute Over Sports-Betting Launch Timeline

October 7, 2022
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An eight-hour meeting showed the split among members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission regarding a potential launch timeline for both retail and online sports betting in the state.

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An eight-hour meeting showed the split among members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) regarding a potential launch timeline for both retail and online sports betting in the state.

The commission ended its meeting Thursday night (October 6) without taking a vote on whether to impose a staggered launch or set a universal launch date for all operators to target, or any potential dates for launches, after spending the day batting around potential timelines.

Earlier in the meeting, commission staff ruled out the remote possibility of a launch in 2022 but offered what executive director Karen Wells called “an aggressive timeline” that would see a retail sportsbooks launch in January and a mobile launch in February.

In addition to five retail licenses for casino and off-track simulcast facilities, the commission can award up to 16 “category 3” mobile licenses, with seven of those being untethered to existing facilities.

The commission in August conducted a Notice of Intent process to gauge interest in the market, with 42 companies expressing interest in applying for licenses in the state.

“The issue of the competitive process is, although we have done the Notice of Intent, we don't know exactly how many of those companies that have identified an intent actually will file an application for a category 3 [mobile betting] license,” Wells said.

Wells added that commission staff was expecting about 35 applicants in total, although a more aggressive launch timeline would likely shrink that number.

As the meeting progressed, however, it became clear that the five-member commission was split on whether to set an expedited timeline, or any timeline at all at this stage of conversation.

“The problem I'm having with this entire discussion and quite frankly, probably most of today's agenda is that what's being put forth for consideration seems to be driven by a timeline or launch date that has been predetermined by some, and I'm having trouble trying to make everything that we have to come before us fit within that arbitrary timeline,” said commissioner Nakisha Skinner.

Later on Thursday, commissioners Bradford Hill and Jordan Maynard supported a less aggressive timeline that would feature a retail launch several days before the Super Bowl in February and then a mobile launch in time for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March.

“I'm worried that we won't run through the tape,” Maynard said. “I think I'm willing to take this vote to put pressure on myself, my fellow commissioners, this organization to get the category three [mobile licenses] running quick after the category one and twos [licensees] are up.”

That timeline still met resistance from Skinner and fellow commissioner Eileen O’Brien.

“My caveat is we don't know what their timeline is going to be till we get the applications and so I think we're in a bit of a tough situation,” O’Brien said. “I would love to be able to say that date in March, but I for one, I'm not willing to box myself in because I just don't know how many [applications] we're going to get.”

MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein appeared to favor taking some action to set a timeline but deferred with a split vote appearing to be on the horizon.

Instead, the commission will resume its meeting on Friday (October 7) to continue the conversation, with Hill saying he will put a motion on the table to set a timeline, even if it ultimately is not a rigid one.

Wells pointed out that there are other items on the agenda where staff needs guidance from the commission, particularly in the area of how the commission will grade and evaluate applications, to draft implementing regulations.

After eight hours of conversations resulted in no vote on perhaps the most notable outstanding issue of a launch timeline, Judd-Stein expressed frustration with the commission’s inaction.

“I’m very concerned about the rate of our decision-making, I’m very concerned about it,” she said. “I’m concerned about our ability to move forward.”

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