Colin A. Young
BOSTON – Hold your horses, keen sports gamblers. After months of public pressure on lawmakers to legalize sports betting, the Gaming Commission telegraphed Thursday that it will take longer for them to realize bets if or when the governor signs the bill than some people expect.
“I want the public to understand, as we as Commissioners are beginning to understand, that this is not something that will happen overnight,” Commissioner Brad Hill said. He added: “I’ve seen some quotes in the paper from the public and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short time. And I just want the public to be clear, at least in my opinion going this may take a little longer than people probably expect, and I’m okay with that because I want to do it right.”
Hill did not point to specific comments, but appeared to respond to comments such as those from House Speaker Ron Mariano and Sen. Eric Lesser this week, Mariano said he expects the two state casinos that have already set up sportsbooks “almost immediately after launch” and Lesser said on sports radio this week that the committee had told him that “it will take about 90 days.” take” before they start licensing.
“So you’re talking about maybe October when the whole thing could be up in the air. So you know, pretty soon, and definitely for the fall football season,” Lesser, who is running for the entire state office, said this week.
Mindful that sports betting will not be legal unless and until Governor Charlie Baker signs the bill that lawmakers sent him early Monday morning (he has until August 11 to act on it), the Gaming Commission did not offer its own specific timeline for initiating legal betting in Massachusetts.
Month-long timeline provided
But as commissioners went through the steps they needed or wanted to take in implementing sports betting, a months-long timeline came into view. The formal regulatory process takes two to three months from start to finish, a commission attorney said, and most permit application processes in other states take between three and six months, said a commission official leading the work to apply for an application. for Massachusetts.
One of the committee’s first steps will be to hold “at the earliest available date” once Baker signs the bill, a roundtable with its existing licensees — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino, and simulcast centers Raynham Park. and Suffolk Downs – to get more details about their sports betting plans and to get their input as the committee looks to regulate the new activity.
Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said she envisions additional similar roundtables with responsible gaming organizations and other interested parties “in the coming weeks and months.”
A draft mobile sports betting license application presented to the committee on Thursday for discussion purposes included a sample timeline that began with applications becoming available on July 9 and the granting of licenses that took place at the first committee meeting after December 9. Officials stressed that the timeline provided was just a sample, but the committee will be a month behind that sample schedule by the time betting is legalized here.
“I can soften the blow that it’s going to take some time with this … we’ve been busy preparing and that puts us in a position that already gives us an edge,” said Judd-Stein, referring to the litany of very detailed issues that Executive Director Karen Wells and the committee staff have been pondering for several months, as sports betting appeared to be a real possibility.
Much of Thursday morning’s meeting focused on those issues Wells wants the committee to address if and when the governor signs the sports betting bill on his desk, as well as the things potential operators can do to make the application process smoother for themselves. To let expire. .
“We are trying to reach potential licensees [that] this is generally what we’re going to ask so they can get to work and we’re not going to hold them up by making them wait until we sort of figure out what we’re going to ask,” Wells said. “We’re giving them a general idea, these companies, they know how to collect this information so they can get moving every now and then and there’s less delay.”
Questions for Commissioners
Wells gave commissioners an idea of the things she was thinking about: When casinos open a sportsbook, what is considered the playing area? How should promotional play offers from sports betting providers be treated for tax purposes? What forms does the commission ask from operators who want to apply for a license here? What levels of job information will be required of applicants? What standards should be used to evaluate mobile gambling platforms from an IT perspective? How do sports betting fit into the committee’s own organizational structure?
“The overarching principle we operate on is that integrity in the implementation and regulation of sports betting is critical. We had the discussion last week that we only get one chance to get this right, and we intend to do that, Wells said on Thursday, later adding: “There is interesting work to be done and we are prepared and ready to move forward if that is the case.”
The integrity of gaming in Massachusetts was mentioned repeatedly in Thursday’s meeting, and commissioners told would-be operators and gamblers to expect the same level of scrutiny from the commission as the state’s casino operators were given when they sought licenses about a decade ago. .
“While we are at it and we will act quickly, we will not lower our standards in any way,” said Commissioner Eileen O’Brien. “And it is expected, in my view, that the same eligibility standards apply … in my view there is no reduction in eligibility standards as far as I am concerned unless we are specifically prescribed otherwise.”
Hill said he will think about eligibility and integrity, especially if the committee knows exactly how a provision in the sports betting law that allows for temporary licensing might work.
“Here in Massachusetts we have very high standards and I think we have a reputation for that. Whether people like it or not, we have a reputation. I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “I don’t want us lowering those standards in terms of eligibility at any point in the process, especially when it comes to the temporary licenses.”
An early decision point for commissioners — including newly appointed commissioner Jordan Maynard, who joined the agency Monday — was how to structure a new sports betting division. Wells and commissioners agreed that the best approach would be to have a standalone division to handle sports betting and they cited suggestions from regulators in other states as the impetus.
“Recommendations made to me have convinced me that having a sports betting division is the right choice, but that division may not be a major division,” Wells said. “I’m looking for a chief of that division and maybe some employees, but that division will really wake up in conjunction with the other divisions of the agency.”
Commissioners were cautious as their meeting began Thursday to regularly note that sports betting is still illegal in Massachusetts and to remind listeners that they were only taking fairly limited steps to act quickly if Baker signed the bill to legalize sports betting.
“While that bill is on the governor’s desk, there is no vehicle to place a legal sports bet in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So there are nefarious operators still trying to get customers in this time of transition,” he said. Judd-Stein. “So again, we’re reminding the public that sports betting is not legal in Massachusetts at this time.”