Massachusetts regulators held their first in a series of roundtable conversations with potential sports-betting operators following the passage of legislation legalizing the activity earlier this month.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) met on Thursday (August 18) with land-based gaming operators, including the state’s three casino operators and two off-track simulcast wagering facilities — Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park — which can receive licenses to operate retail betting at their respective locations.
The land-based operators may also partner with mobile operators to offer state-wide mobile betting, with each casino receiving two mobile skins and the simulcast wagering operators receiving one skin.
Among the key discussion topics were a potential timeline for when regulations can be finalized and launches can begin, as well as discussion about advertising restrictions and potential wagering kiosk locations.
Operators asked the commission to, as part of its process, provide clarity on a potential launch date that operators can then work backwards from, as well as prioritizing guidance on the licensing process and technical approvals.
That kind of timeline, one commissioner said, may still be some time away.
“We're pretty early in this process, but I am not envisioning that we're going to be able to give you right now, or even in the next couple of weeks, a date in the near future that says we anticipate [launching] and you can start working your way back from there, until we get to sort of the critical juncture with most of the regs ready to go, applications ready, that sort of thing,” said commissioner Eileen O’Brien.
Advertising restrictions have been a key issue in Massachusetts, to the point that an earlier Senate version of the bill included a whistle-to-whistle prohibition on broadcast advertising during sporting events.
Karen Wells, executive director of the commission, asked operators if they would object to potential restrictions on the frequency of advertising if they were applied unanimously.
"If you're at the same level as all your competitors," Wells asked, "is that actually a sort of a neutral thing for you and everybody is limited the amount of advertising and then you're not spending all that money on advertising, and then the public's not subject to a constant barrage of gambling advertising?"
Jacqui Krum, senior vice president and general counsel for Encore Boston Harbor, said that although Wynn Resorts did not want to be in a “race to the bottom” on gambling advertising, she also pointed out that competitors from neighboring states are already advertising in Massachusetts.
“We need to try to be on a level playing field with that,” she said.
Commissioner Bradford Hill added the commission may run into constitutional limitations if it attempts to limit the amount of advertising.
“It’s going to be quite a barrage at some point, but I'm not exactly sure if there's anything we can really do about it,” Hill said. “We're going to dig into it a little further and say for sure, [but] I think there are some concerns with the constitutionality of trying to tell people what they can and can't do in terms of advertising.”
The stakeholders also discussed potential kiosk locations, with Wynn and MGM Springfield pushing for exceptions to allow kiosks to be placed outside their gaming floors for special events such as a watch party, while Wynn also suggested the idea of placing kiosks in its parking garage.
“One of the thoughts is potentially creating a location within the garage, which would obviously be cordoned off with appropriate security and surveillance, where it might be helpful for guests who want to just pull up, have short-term parking, come and place a wager and depart the premises,” Krum said.
The commission expects to hold additional roundtables in the coming weeks, with one set to involve conversations with companies looking to pursue a mobile wagering license, and another to be a standalone roundtable on the topic of responsible gambling and advertising.
“The MGC put a premium on these efforts and expect our licensees do as well,” said Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the commission.
The commission also released a “notice of intent” form on Wednesday for potential license applicants to fill out and submit by August 31 so “a landscape of interest in sports-betting licenses can come into focus.”