The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Friday voted to launch retail sports betting at three Category 1 (i.e., brick-and-mortar) casino sportsbooks in “late January” and Category 3 (mobile) wagering in “early March” after contentious discussion which revealed that neither the commission nor the staff had studied the sports calendar or understands how wagering around big events works.
Four commissioners voted to approve the launch windows. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner, who argued for the launch timeline to be developed by staff rather than hooked to a key sporting event, abstained from the vote. Before the commissioners voted, they agreed that the dates could change based on public comment or staff recommendations.
One staff member suggested that launching on an NFL Sunday would be easier than on a “busy Thursday or Friday” before the weekend, while a commissioner suggested that launching on an NFL playoff Sunday could resemble a salmon run. The commissioner added that, in the interest of public safety, it would be wiser to launch on the night of Jan. 29 — after conference championship games are played — than earlier in the day, if that is ultimately the date.
For the second day in a row, there was a possibility that there would be no vote, but Chair Cathy Judd-Stein pushed for one, even though it was clear that there was not a consensus. Critical to the decision is that specific launch dates have not been selected, and while Commissioner Bradley Hill suggested Jan. 18, Executive Director Karen Wells was clear in saying that her staff needed more time. Hence, it appears very likely that the three retail sportsbooks could launch for the NFL conference championship games on Jan. 29, or potentially, the day after.
Super Bowl bets start early
Sportsbook operators have said the Super Bowl is the single biggest individual sports betting event of the year, but betting doesn’t just happen on Super Bowl Sunday, which is set for Feb. 12 in Arizona. Super Bowl futures bets can come in almost as soon as the regular-season schedule is set, but around the Super Bowl, betting is heavy leading into the conference championships and during the two weeks leading up to the final game.
There are three Category 1 operators in Massachusetts — Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM, and WynnBET — each of which will have retail sportsbooks at existing casinos in Boston (Encore/WynnBET), Plainfield (PENN Entertainment/Barstool), and Springfield (MGM/BetMGM). The new law also allows for a physical sportsbook at each of the state’s two horse racetracks and up to 15 digital platforms. Eight of those platforms will have to be tethered to a brick-and-mortar location, while seven will be stand-alone mobile sportsbooks.
Commissioners spent significant time discussing how to manage public safety and prevent a situation where consumers would overwhelm the three retail sportsbooks on the first day of legal wagering. That discussion is likely to continue as the calendar moves closer to launch and could play a role in what day is ultimately selected.
Based on the phrase “early March,” the MGC is aiming to launch digital wagering ahead of NCAA March Madness, which starts with the First Four in Dayton on March 14-15 and ends April 3 in Houston.
Horse track sportsbook launch undecided
Launch of Category 2 licensees, which will be brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at two horse racetracks, were not considered during the meeting. Both Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs will be permitted to open sportsbooks, but neither has announced a partner.
— Dave Wedge (@DaveWedge) October 7, 2022
Some of the urgency around announcing a launch date likely has to do with the fact that Massachusetts is surrounded by legal wagering states, including New Hampshire, where Boston-based DraftKings has a monopoly on retail and digital wagering. Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island all also offer legal betting.
The commission voted to begin promulgating rules and set up the process for approving vendors. MGC staff posted a scoping survey Friday and had plans to post the application for operators and open a 45-day period for interested parties to complete it. If the application is posted Friday, that would mean applications would be due Nov. 21. From there, MGC staff would begin vetting applicants, and the commission would consider issuing approvals.