Massachusetts positioning for 2023 sports betting launch

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Massachusetts’ first online and retail sportsbooks would open in early 2023 under an “aggressive” timeline proposed by state gaming regulators Thursday.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission laid out a timeline that would allow the state’s first retail books to open in January and online sportsbooks in February. The timeline would mean Massachusetts bettors would have legal in-person and digital wagering options by next year’s Super Bowl and NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, perenially the two most-wagered sporting events in the US.

Gaming officials repeatedly stressed during Thursday’s MGC meeting that the early 2023 opening and launch timeline was the quickest possible turnaround, MGC Executive Director Karen Wells said. Wells said there was “no way” sports betting could begin in 2022.

The MGC adjourned Thursday afternoon without taking a formal vote on a launch timeline. Commissioners were set to reconvene at noon EST Friday.

Ultimately, the five-person MGC will have to approve the timeline and even then extensive work would remain before wagering could begin. Officials reiterated that even this comparatively quick launch runway did not guarantee a launch by January or February and several regulators Thursday worried the timeline was too quick to effectively complete all the commission’s mandates.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed his state’s sports being bill into law in August. Most states take between six-to-nine months to go from bill signing to first bet, though some states have taken as many as 18 months or as few as three.

During Thursday’s lengthy meeting, regulators discussed a myriad of requirements for sportsbooks before legal wagering can begin in the commonwealth. The commission advanced rules for financial reporting mandates, licensure qualification and application requirements, among other topics.

Massachusetts’ 2022 sports betting law tasks the commission with a multitude of mandates to approve sportsbooks. All of the more than 30 states that have passed sports betting laws have required follow-up regulations but Massachusetts’ is among the most comprehensive.

Not only will the commission have to approve sports betting rules, such as eligible events, reporting requirements and a host of other key mandates, but also approve sportsbooks that will be able to take bets.

Regulators will consider experience, expertise and potential revenue when considering sports betting licenses, gaming officials reaffirmed at Thursday’s meeting. Other considerations will include community engagement initiatives, diversity inclusion measures, responsible gaming policies and corporate responsibility standards, among other criteria.

Massachusetts is set to have five retail sportsbooks and 15 online sports betting platforms, the most of any state in the region. The retail books will be spread between the state’s two simulcast race facilities and three commercial casinos.

The three casinos, MGM Springfield, Wynn’s Encore Boston Harbor and Penn Entertainment’s Plainridge Park, have all started work on building their physical sportsbooks that will be partnered with their operating companies, BetMGM, WynnBet and Barstool Sports, respectively. The two racing facilities, Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs, are set to announce retail partners in the coming weeks or months.

The sports betting bill allows the three major casinos to have two online sports betting licenses apiece. The casinos will use one of their two skins on their respective flagship sports betting brands and will likely strike deals with other companies to enter the market through their second skin.

Both simulcast racing facilities will be able to partner with one online sportsbook. Neither has announced an online partner but they’ve indicated they may use separate third-party operators to run their retail and online wagering options.

There are up to seven remaining online sports betting licenses for companies not affiliated with the brick-and-mortar gaming facilities. More than 30 companies are expected to apply for the seven slots, according to state gaming regulators.

The law’s structure could potentially require regulators to award “temporary” licenses to all qualified applicants and then have all but seven have their licensure stripped. Regulators have said at multiple recent meetings they will work to avoid this scenario, where more than two-dozen sportsbooks open and then be forced to close, but cautioned this could prolong the licensure process.

About the author

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Ryan Butler

Ryan is a veteran sports betting and iGaming regulation and breaking news journalist based in the US. A two-time Associated Press Sports Editors award winner, he has reported on sports and politics since 2012. He has covered the gaming industry since 2018. Ryan graduated from the University of Florida with a major in Journalism and a minor in Sport Management.

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