Massachusetts Gaming Commission Taps Brakes on Quick Sports-Betting Launch

August 5, 2022
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Massachusetts regulators have thrown some cold water on the idea of a speedy sports-betting launch but stressed that they are “ahead of the game” when it comes to their preparation.

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Massachusetts regulators have thrown some cold water on the idea of a speedy sports-betting launch but stressed that they are “ahead of the game” when it comes to their preparation.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission held its first public meeting on sports betting Thursday (August 4) following the passage of legislation earlier this week that will legalize land-based and mobile wagering throughout the Commonwealth.

House Bill 5164 has yet to be signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker, who has until next week to do so, but the bill is expected to be signed, and so the commission began to lay out what needs to be done in the coming months.

Included on that to-do list includes hiring a chief of the commission’s new sports-betting division, as well as a spreadsheet that includes 225 regulatory issues staff are seeking to iron out.

Among the key issues executive director Karen Wells highlighted include common issues such as the application the commission will use, technical certification of platforms, and vendor licensing, but Wells also mentioned promotional play tax deductions as an issue the commission will review.

The legislation did not include any allowance for operators to deduct promotional play from taxable revenues.

“The issue of how promotional play is handled for tax purposes is very important, it’s a hot button issue in the industry,” Wells said.

The timeline of when sports betting would be up and running has been a key question in the immediate aftermath of the legislation, as some legislators teased that a launch could happen in time for the upcoming National Football League (NFL) season.

Although no firm timeline was issued, commissioners tapped the brakes on that speculation.

“In order for us to do this right, we need to take our time a little bit to ensure that we're doing it right, and that our staff has the tools that they need to make this right,” said commissioner Bradford Hill.

“I've seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and, and others, you know that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time,” he continued. “I just want the public to be clear … I'm not speaking for the whole commission, but from my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate.”

Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the commission, said that she could “soften the blow” of Hill’s remarks by saying that the commission has been monitoring and preparing for sports-betting legislation throughout the process.

“That does put us in a position that makes us ahead of the game already, and that's the good news,” Judd-Stein said.

Judd-Stein pitched a series of public roundtables with stakeholders to obtain their input, with the first being a roundtable with potential land-based operators, including the state’s three casinos and two simulcast wagering locations, with more to come in the weeks and months ahead.

In addition to the land-based sportsbooks, the law permits each of the casinos to have two mobile sports-betting skins, and each simulcast operator to have one mobile skin. Seven mobile operators untethered to the land-based operators may also be licensed through a competitive licensing process.

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