Massachusetts Targets February for Mobile Sports Betting, Regulators Warn of Delays

Massachusetts Targets February for Mobile Sports Betting, Regulators Warn of Delays article feature image

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Fenway Park.

Massachusetts could have sports betting apps as early as the Super Bowl, but that's not a guarantee.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission revealed on Thursday a "tentative timeline" — with retail betting starting in January and online by February — to implement the sports betting law Gov. Charlie Baker signed in August.

But that depends on the commission expeditiously pushing forward rules, and operators turning in paperwork at a "rapid-fire" pace — which not all commissioners were on board with.

“We’re making certain assumptions about commission decisions that haven’t been made yet, but this is the most aggressive that we’ve got at least a shot at making,” MGC commissioner Karen Wells said.

By law, Massachusetts can have up to 15 online sportsbooks and 42 entities have already expressed interest. Six of those licenses are set aside for MGM Springfield (BetMGM), Encore Boston Harbor (WynnBet) and Plainridge Park (Barstool). Two more are reserved for the Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park racetracks and the remaining seven are up for grabs.

Debate Over 'Aggressive' Timeline

"This should be done in a responsible way that gets it to patrons, but does so in a manner that maximizes benefit and minimizes harm," Commissioner Eileen O'Brien said. "This aggressive timeline appears to be a decision made without a wholesome five-person commissioner conversation."

It would indeed be one of the more aggressive launches of any of the 36 states to legalize sports betting. Some, like Kansas, were able to launch just four months after legalizing. Others, like Maryland, have taken nearly two years.

Massachusetts would have to issue a plethora of temporary licenses to let operators take bets while general applications are pending. That's been done in other states like Iowa, Indiana and Connecticut.

Applications haven't even been posted yet. If they can go up tomorrow, applicants would have about a week to complete a scoping survey, then 30 days to disclose additional information about their businesses.

Anything longer could push the timeline back, possibly past the NCAA tournament in March.

Advantage to Larger Operators

Commissioner Nakisha Skinner expressed concern over not giving smaller operators enough time and called the process "backwards" and "compressed".

If sports betting is to go live by early next year, the commission has to accept that larger companies would benefit, MGC CFO Derek Lennon said.

"Could you do a 30-day turnaround? Yes. The risk is there may be companies where that’s too burdensome. That’s on them,” Wells said. "The commission would have to accept there may not be such a robust process."

If online betting is pushed back, retail betting would still likely start by the Super Bowl, as the law details which casinos get those licenses.

"I would personally work around the clock to make sure this happens on time," Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said.

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