MA Betting: Gaming Commission Takes Cautious Approach to Licensing Approvals, Launch Unlikely Until 2023

After passing a bill that has legal sports betting in the state moving towards reality, Massachusetts bettors were optimistic betting could go live this Fall. The latest MGC meeting, however, moves that timeline back — into 2023.

Last Updated: Aug 4, 2022 2:59 PM ET Read Time: 5 min
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On Monday, those awaiting sports betting in Massachusetts had reason to rejoice upon learning that House and Senate legislators had finally settled on a compromise bill that would allow legal sports betting to go live in the Bay State.

Many legislators even suggested that the public could expect to place bets with the major sportsbooks sometime this Fall.

But now, all bets regarding any swift rollout of mobile betting in Massachusetts are off. During the course of this morning's 90-minute public meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), it emerged that the five-member panel was decidedly resistant to any accelerated timetable.

MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein appeared to be slow-walking the entire deliberative process and allowed her fellow commissioners and MGC staff to set the tone for the meeting.

It was left to Jaclyn Knecht, executive assistant Judd-Stein, to almost casually temper expectations by advising the commissioners that it could take "three to six months" for the regulatory, vetting, and licensing process to be completed.

Knecht has been responsible for studying sportsbook application processes in other state jurisdictions and she advised the commission that they faced up to a half-year of deliberations, although she said the process might take only a "few months" depending on the degree of detail and due diligence involved in the overall application process.

"The general consensus on the application timeline is somewhere between three and six months for each jurisdiction," Knecht said. "There are some that are very short, and there are some that are much longer than that."

No opposition to delayed timetable

No one blinked at Knecht's timetable assessment, nor did any try to offer a more optimistic forecast than having a three months' (minimum) delay in the cards.

On the contrary, Commissioner Bradford Hill, a former Massachusetts House representative, went out of his way to dispel any hope of a speedy rollout.

"I want the public to understand, as we as commissioners are starting to understand, that this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight," Hill said. "I’ve seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time."

"And I just want the public to be clear, at least from my view — 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. And I’m OK with that."

Loretta Lillios, Director of the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) of the Gaming Commission, suggested that since the legislation — which would permit both online sports betting and retail wagers — did not specify a rigorous standard in the vetting process, this opened the door for the MGC to opt for a temporary provision that would have fast-tracked the approval process.

Lillios argued that the new bill does not contain the "clear and convincing standard" that a license applicant was required to satisfy in previous investigations involved in granting initial gaming license approvals.

She explained that the bill does have in place a "temporary provision [regarding licensing] which would need to be flushed out... and that that may be a tool that we can use to achieve a comfort level with the commission... regarding timeliness."

That was met immediately with hesitation, with Hill cautioning against "lowering our standards" with respect to the "suitability" of prospective license applicants — either in the case of temporary licenses or regular (i.e. long-term) licenses.

"Here in Massachusetts, we have very high standards and I think we have a reputation to back," Hill said. "I don't want to see us lower our standards at any point in the process."

In an attempt to soften the blow to public expectations that Hill might have fostered, Judd-Stein offered a more upbeat assessment of the regulatory process, noting that the state is ahead of the game, referencing the advance work that has already been carried about by MGC team members in anticipation of Monday's passage of the betting bill.

But when it came to considerations of expediency with respect to the ultimate rollout of mobile wagering in Massachusetts, Judd-Stein was adamant that "we won't compromise the integrity of the process."

Super Bowl a realistic goal?

For the time being, it appears certain that Massachusetts residents intent on betting on their favorite state sports teams will still have to cross state lines until 2023 rolls around.

Jenny Holaday, president of the Encore Boston Harbor Casino (affiliated with WynnBET), indicated a pragmatic launch date when she told the Boston Globe on Monday that in-person sports wagering may happen sooner rather than later, with online betting having to wait until 2023.

"We’ll hopefully be live by the Super Bowl, I think that’s the deadline everybody has in their mind," Holaday said.

When Massachusetts does finally get the green light, there will be no shortage of big-name players ready to launch. In addition to WynnBET, hometown brands in DraftKings and Barstool Sportsbook will be ready to go, along with the likes of FanDuel, BetMGM, and more.

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