What’s next for sports betting in Massachusetts? Regulatory action and licensure work falls to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission

Gov. Charlie Baker legalized sports wagering in Massachusetts with the stroke of a pen Wednesday afternoon, but gamblers may have to wait months before they can head into an in-person establishment or open up an app to place bets.

Implementation and regulatory oversight of the brand new industry now falls to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, whose five commissioners and staff have already identified at least 225 potential areas where they will need to promulgate regulations. Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Well said a great deal of work has already been done by commission staff in anticipation of sports wagering becoming legal.

“This includes identifying over 200 potential regulations, adopting a framework to utilize industry-recognized technical standards, establishing an infrastructure to investigate and license applicants, initiating the hiring of a chief of sports wagering, and scheduling public meetings,” Wells said in a statement . “Now that we have a law that defines our responsibilities as regulator, we will work with our stakeholders to swiftly stand up this new industry with a focus on integrity, player safety and consumer protection.”

At the commission meeting last week, Deputy General Counsel Caitlin Monahan said attorneys are in the process of drafting regulations on topics like how wagers are submitted to the application process and adjudicatory hearings to technology standards.

“You may be asking yourself, well, ‘how are you going to get through 225 regulations?’” she said. “We have to prioritize them in some way, shape or form. So we have created three priority tiers of our regulations. Priority tier one is the ones that we’ll tackle first, priority tier two second.”

Monahan said an attorney will be assigned to reach regulation, who will then work with stakeholders on drafting language. Hopefully, she said, the attorney can use templates and models so as to “not recreate the wheel when we don’t have to.”

“Once we have a draft, that will go to legal. Legal will approve the draft internally and say it’s ready to move on,” Monahan said. “It will then be forwarded to the commission for putting on an agenda for a public meeting for discussion — we’ll track that. Then when it’s approved by the commission to move forward into the promulgation process — we’ll track that as well.”

The Gaming Commission plans to meet Thursday at 10 am Executive Director Karen Wells is scheduled to offer updates on preparations related to sports wagering, and Chairperson Cathy Judd-Stein will offer remarks on plans to hold sports wagering roundtables with licensees and stakeholders.

While the law Baker signed allows for the state’s three casinos to pursue temporary licenses, commissioners pumped the brakes last week on a quick start in time for the fall football season.

Both MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor have already set up areas in their casinos that they plan to quickly transform into sports wagering lounges. MGM Springfield pumped millions into a room filled with displays and lounge chairs, while Encore has the WynnBET Sports Bar.

State lawmakers who helped craft a final sports betting compromise — which at some points looked as if it would fall through — have previously expressed hopes that some portion of the industry could be in place in time for fall football season.

Speaking on the radio last week, Sen. Eric Lesser, one of the negotiators who helped craft a final bill, said the Gaming Commission said it would take “about 90 days” to start issuing licenses. House Speaker Ronald Mariano previously said he expects the state’s two casinos that already have sportsbooks “will open up almost immediately as soon as the launch.”

One provision of the new law allows the state’s three casinos, live horsing racing tracks, and simulcasting establishments to apply for a temporary license “for the immediate commencement of sports wagering operations” at a fee of $1 million. The Gaming Commission’s executive director would need to review the application and approve it.

Commissioner Brad Hill, a former Republican state representative from Ipswich, said last week he was “fighting with myself” about the temporary license language, arguing the commission should not “lower our standards for anybody, whether it’s a temporary license or regular license, in terms of suitability.”

“Here in Massachusetts, we have very high standards. And I think we have a reputation for that, whether people like it or don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t want to see us lower those standards at any point during the process, in terms of suitability, especially when it comes to the temporary licenses.”

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon at the State House, Mariano said it “would be disappointing if it takes too long.”

“You’ve got two hotels that are ready to open the doors as quickly as you can,” he said. “I know Encore has built a room, and I know MGM is depending on this to increase their bottom line. So I hope we can get it up and running … at least in time for fall football.”

In a statement Wednesday, Judd-Stein said the commission has been monitoring sports wagering legislation for years and “taking appropriate steps to prepare for our potential role.”

“As soon as this week, we will be working to understand the landscape of interest in operator licensure as we move forward with this process,” she said in a statement. “I appreciate the work currently underway by my fellow commissioners and the entire MGC team. We are committed to ensuring the integrity of sports wagering in the Commonwealth and are looking forward to engaging stakeholders in an inclusive and transparent process.”

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Jorge Oliveira

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