Sports News

Mass. Gaming Commission sets ‘late January’ timeline for launch of in-person sports betting

The approved motion aims to launch mobile sports betting by "early March," but includes conditions that could result in delays.

Mass Sports Betting
Gambling websites DraftKings and MGM Resorts adorn the Green Monster scoreboard in left field as Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (11) warms up before a baseball game at Fenway Park, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Fans hoping to place a legal sports wager in Massachusetts will have to wait until at least 2023, according to the first glimpse of a timeline unveiled by the Gaming Commission.

After more than eight hours of discussions on Thursday, and several more in an emergency continuation of the session on Friday, commissioners finally passed a motion that established “late January” for the launch of in-person “Category 1” operators such as casinos and “early March” as the launch for mobile sports betting (designated as a “Category 3 license”).

In both cases, however, conditions were attached that “the commission may reconsider these dates should there be staff, extraordinary circumstances, or public comment brought up that would not allow the launch on these dates.”

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The motion was passed by a 4-0 vote, with commissioner Nakisha Skinner abstaining.

“We are still operating under the timelines of a couple of commissioners who have made those timelines clear and have essentially directed that the timeline be worked to accommodate those sports events,” said Skinner prior to the vote. “The Super Bowl and ‘March Madness.'”

“I am simply not OK with that,” Skinner concluded.

Skinner’s reference came after comments made on Thursday by both commissioners Bradford Hill and Jordan Maynard that they would like to see the launch of in-person sports betting prior to the 2023 Super Bowl (set for Feb. 12), with the mobile component being launched in time for the NCAA basketball tournament on March 14.

Gaming Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein countered by noting, “We’re going to have a vote on that, so I don’t think that anything has been directed.”

The exchange was emblematic of the divide in the commission over the pacing of sports betting’s launch. Skinner and fellow commissioner Eileen O’Brien repeatedly voiced concerns about rushing the process, considering the scale of work required to build a whole new system of legalized gaming within the state.

Karen Wells, the commission’s executive director, acknowledged in a Thursday presentation about the possible timing that the initial proposal — early January for in-person betting — represented “the most aggressive timeline that we’ve got a shot of making.”

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“We’re talking about [a] compressed timeline. You know if this compressed timeline makes sense and it’s responsible I’m all for it,” said Skinner in response. “I just need to understand the rationale for why there is this compressed timeline advanced as opposed to a reasonable timeline by which the team can get this done.”

Sports betting was officially legalized by state lawmakers in a last-second end-of-session deal in August, though full implementation was contingent on the establishment of a regulatory framework by the Gaming Commission.

As Judd-Stein pointed out, that will require the creation of more than 200 regulations.

“I am very concerned about the rate of our decision-making,” Judd-Stein acknowledged towards the end of Thursday’s marathon session. “I am very concerned about it.”

Still, the approximate dates — which were left intentionally vague so that an exact launch day could be coordinated later to account for circumstances such as the NFL playoffs — represent the most specific timeline yet in the discussion of sports betting’s launch in the state.

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