MA sports betting regulators pump the brakes on the idea of a fall launch

MA sports betting launch date

Sports betting is still not legal in Massachusetts but that isn’t stopping the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) from meeting to begin the process of drafting sports betting regulations if and when Gov. Charlie Baker signs the MA sports betting legislation into law.

With no law in place, there was only so much the MGC could accomplish in this meeting, but the group of five Commissioners (including newly minted Commissioner Jordan Maynard) did discuss organizational charts, prioritizing which regulations need to be written first, and discussing how involved existing racetrack and casino licensees should be involved in the process.

There were no concrete decisions, but one thing was clear: a timeline where the MGC approves operators to launch in tandem with the start of NFL season is almost certainly out of the question.

Commissioners respond to public launch expectations

Midway through the meeting, the subject of timing came up. Commissioner Bradford Hill was the first to speak his mind on the idea of an accelerated timetable:

“I’m trying to think if I want to make a comment now or wait to the end after the presentation, but since you’ve asked, I want the public to understand, as we as commissioners are starting to understand, that this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. And I think our public needs to understand that there is going to be a process that we need to go through not only with licensing, but certifying those who come before us for suitability and things of that sort. And that just doesn’t happen overnight,” Hill said. 

“And if anything I’ve learned over the last year with this commission is we aren’t going to do this right. And in order for us to do this, right, we need to take our time a little bit to ensure that we’re doing it right and that our staff has the tools that they need to make this right. You know, I’ve seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and, and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time. I just want the public to be clear, at least from my view. I’m not speaking for the whole mission, but from my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate and I’m okay with that.”

Commissioner Cathy-Judd Stein had slightly more optimism than Hill, but essentially agreed that accuracy could not be compromised for the sake of speed:

“We’ve been busy preparing and that does put us in a position that that makes us ahead of the game already without a question. And that’s the good news. And then the extra point that you made that I know we all echo but that we will we won’t compromise the integrity of gaming and the quality of the product that we are regulating. And I know that every licensee that’s given that peerless privilege here in Massachusetts will echo that.”

Finally, Commissioner Eileen O’Brien added her take, echoing the sentiments of her peers:

“This is a process and we move swiftly. We showed it during COVID. We have been doing the research we have been able to do while continuing the task at hand and regulating the three already licensed brick and mortar casinos in the Commonwealth, but this is a process and the suitability and the vetting of the applicants and making sure the rules and the regulations are accurate and appropriate to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth…this process is critical to the mission. So we will move expeditiously if and when this is signed. But we will do it in a manner that is consistent with our responsibilities as a regulatory body and protecting the Commonwealth and maximizing the benefit. So I just want to reiterate I absolutely agree with what Brad said.”

Commissioner Nakisha Skinner agreed with what was said “100%”, while Maynard did not speak on the issue.

Gov. Baker has until Aug. 11 to sign the bill, at which point the MGC can start officially putting pen to paper and beginning the process of accepting license applications.

The NFL regular season begins less than a month later on Sept. 8. That date is an unlikely target for online sports betting, though retail betting could be an easier lift. Meanwhile, it is looking more like online betting will hit the Bay State towards the end of 2022 or start of 2023.