Q&A: Iden talks Massachusetts sports betting launch
Massachusetts is gearing up to launch one of the nation’s most anticipated legal online sports betting markets. Sportradar Government Affairs Director Brandt Iden, a former Michigan lawmaker who spearheaded his state’s sportsbook legalization bill, talked with iGaming NEXT’s Ryan Butler about the legislation and what comes next for sports betting in the Bay State.
Ryan Butler: After several years (and one long night) Massachusetts passed its online sports betting bill. What do you think about getting Massachusetts sports betting legal?
Brandt Iden: “It’s great to see Massachusetts, finally, get something over the finish line. As you alluded to Ryan, it’s been, three, four years in the making. And I’ll be the first to admit this as I was not bullish on Massachusetts getting it over the finish line this year. So to have that welcome news at 5:30 a.m., in about five-and-a-half hours after they were supposed to adjourn, was welcome news to the industry, in an otherwise slow legislative year, where we just the industry has not had a lot of victories.”
“And that happens, because it’s an election year redistricting year. There were a lot of other political pieces at play this year, which impacted the ability for sports betting legislation to get over the finish line. I thought Massachusetts was a great win.”
Though sports betting will be legal, the bill required a series of compromises that made it far from perfect. What are your thoughts on the legislation?
BI: “I will say this, though, and I think this is really important for all the time that was spent on the bill, I would have liked to see it be better than what it was. There was a lot of conversation early on is the reason why it was taking so long was that the intent was to make this model legislation. I’m not certain that we could call it that or get it to that threshold.”
“The prohibition on in-state collegiate wagering except for this odd nuance if they’re playing in tournaments, something we hadn’t seen before, but still the prohibition on in-state schools. What I like to refer to as a very average tax rate, I think it’s too high, but it’s a 20% average tax rate. That’s what we’re seeing across the country. I still think it’s too much.”
“So I think the tax rates are too high here, and we’ll wait to see what happens with the advertising restrictions that were not determined by the law and were kicked to the Gaming Commission. The Commission’s got a of work to do on that particular front. And obviously, no promo deductions are included in the bill. There were some issues with the bill that I think could have been better.”
“However, at the end of the day, I’ll take it as a win for the industry, Massachusetts is going to be a huge market. And I think overall, they’re going to have the most well of all states in New England.”
“So overall, fairly average bill, and good to see you get over the finish line, although there are still some sticking points that I would have liked to see and get corrected before that made its way to the Commission.”
RB: What are you hearing about a possible launch timeline?
BI: “It’s going to take a while. And they’ve been pretty open about that. I think from a launch standpoint, in Massachusetts, it’s been great to see the Gaming Commission get ahead of this. They’ve been working on this for a while they’ve been very active about wanting to get this up and running as soon as possible.”
“But it always takes time. Even from the day that that signature goes out in the legislation to actually getting this thing launched, it always takes a while I don’t think we’re going to be in a position where you’re going to see a launch by Sep. 8. A launch by those first NFL games is not going to happen.”
“I think we’re definitely looking at early 2023. And then big debate really comes down to whether or not the Commission decides to launch retail before they launch mobile. As you well know that the retail books are ready to go, they’re built. But short of that retail wagers, which could happen in very short order for NFL season, I think for statewide mobile we’re definitely looking at probably closer to that March Madness timeframe.”
RB: Why do you think it will take that long?
BI: “Typically, it takes, six, seven or eight months to go through the rules promulgation process. And there and there’s a lot of work to do.”
“If you go through that bill in Massachusetts, almost every sentence starts with ‘the Gaming Commission shall’, which means that they have a lot of work to do to go through that bill and do everything that the legislature has required them to do throughout the course of the process. First they have to promulgate the rules, then get those out for public comment and then get feedback from stakeholders. That all takes time before you can actually get to the point of a mobile launch, in my opinion.”
“So this just comes down to do they decide to start with retail before mobile? Or do they roll this whole thing up and say ‘we’re going to do one big launch’ probably in 2023?”
RB: How does all this set Massachusetts up the future?
BI: “I still continue to say that this is going to be the largest commercial option in New England. It will be fine. By that I mean, as you look at the region, it’s everyone in New England except for Vermont. And the other four all have limited market access opportunities. So there will be a lot of access to the market in Massachusetts, I think and we’ll make this the most robust commercial market in the region.”
“One additional important point to remember is that the legislation also calls for a study to be done by the Commission as to whether or not to put kiosks in bars or restaurants. And so that could be coming very soon as well. Obviously, we’ve still got to get through the process of the launch and all that sort of thing. But then once that happens, I think the Commission is going to quickly move with that market study. And you could even see more options expand for consumers throughout the Commonwealth in the next two or three years.”