Colin A. Young, S.H.N.S.
State House, Boston, Oct. 7, 2022 (State House News Service) Friday’s emergency meeting was still not enough for gaming committee members to agree on the actual dates for the possible launch of sports betting here, but they were at least able to agree on ample time slots to start next-year people-and-mobile betting.
The commissioners agreed to set “late January” as the launch date for Class 1 sports betting operators, meaning casinos in the state and one salon, and set “early March” as the launch date for Class 3 or mobile operators. Officials said the Category 2 operation, which includes the state’s two simulcasting centers, is pending as the commission awaits more information from these facilities.
If the target dates are met, Massachusetts bettors will be able to place a bet on the Super Bowl at either Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield or Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, and then bet via mobile at the March Madness college basketball tournament. This type of tournament is the only situation in which bets can be placed in Massachusetts on competitions in which a Massachusetts college or university participates.
But the committee placed a series of caveats on its vote on Friday, explaining that the beginning of “late January” for retail betting may have to be reconsidered if the staff working behind the scenes to launch the bet encountered “exceptional circumstances” or if major issues come up in public comments. The start of digital betting in “early March” may be delayed if the commission obtains a large number of applications for the seven mobile licenses it can issue.
“Okay, here we go, everyone. Let’s make it a party,” committee chair Cathy Goodstein said after the committee vote 4-0-1. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner, who made it clear she was uncomfortable with the idea of setting the committee’s schedule based on the sports calendar, abstained from the vote.
What the committee eventually agreed to at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday reflects an updated recommendation made by Executive Director Karen Wells at the start of the 12 p.m. meeting.
The controversy that filled the hours between them boiled down largely to the risks the commission was willing to accept in a trade-off for speed. For example, the timeline Wells presented on Friday assumed that the committee would support an abbreviated approach to reviewing third-party vendors. But when that discussion surfaced later on Friday, it led to a major debate among the commissioners.
Skinner said she was not comfortable with the gaming commission using a less detailed process for the world of sports betting than the casino gambling sector. Commissioner Elaine O’Brien said she had many of the same concerns.
“The risk is the same and so in my opinion, we should apply the same rules across the board to the aspect of sports betting that we apply to game sellers,” Skinner said. “If we’re going to ask them to get a license in the first place, I don’t see a difference. I don’t see a reason to have a different set of rules.”
O’Brien offered a compromise that was eventually accepted by the other commissioners: to use the abbreviated process to start, but to build on a time-lapse clause that would go back to the commission’s more common and more detailed process for external vendor review on September 1, 2023. This allowed the commission to turn its attention back to its schedule likely.
At some point during Friday’s meeting, Wells and the commissioners indulged in discussing the actual launch dates for personal betting. Wells first suggested a January 26 start date, but Commissioner Brad Hill said he would prefer January 18, and O’Brien thought the group had mostly settled on the two weeks of Super Bowl, which would be January 29.
That date, Sunday, January 29, was frustrating for a while and surprised UNHCR staff that it was reasonable because it wouldn’t interfere with a busy Friday or Saturday night in casinos. But then Wales received a text message from an unknown number that raised further concerns: Sunday, January 29 is the date of the AFC and NFC Championship matches, competitions to determine which teams will go to the Super Bowl and betting on the magnet itself. .
“If you make it in place at 12am on the 29th, it will actually be very volatile,” said Sterl Carpenter, director of regulatory compliance at the Commission, noting the massive rush to anticipate bookies.