The Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday dismissed a request from DraftKings to have the state launch retail and digital sports betting simultaneously rather than retail first and digital about six weeks later.
The Boston-based sports betting giant wrote a two-page letter contending that a staggered launch can limit consumer choices, cause confusion, and create inequity, but commissioners were mostly unmoved.
“I personally don’t think we need to reassess what we did two weeks ago, that’s one person’s opinion. I think we’ve really discussed it enough that we don’t need to discuss it again,” Commissioner Bradford Hill said in what could be considered an understatement — it took the MGC more than 10 hours over two days to settle on a launch timeline in early October, and that was after getting feedback from stakeholders.
During those discussions, DraftKings was the only potential operator to push hard for a uniform start date. The commission is planning to launch brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in late January and digital platforms in early March. Three companies — MGM, PENN Entertainment, and Wynn — are guaranteed sports betting access through their casinos, and none has voiced any concern over the so-called “staggered” start date. Each of the casinos can have up to two digital skins or platforms, meaning that they collectively will control six of the 16 available sites.
Though the casinos have not announced digital partners, each will use its own mobile platform — BetMGM, Barstool Sportsbook, and WynnBET. Any other operators wanting to have a presence in Massachusetts will have to partner with one of the casinos or one of three horse racetracks/parimutuel facilities, or else compete for one of seven stand-alone mobile licenses.
Commissioners generally unsympathetic
DraftKings said in its letter: “This decision to launch mobile sports wagering after retail sports wagering would artificially limit consumer choice and consumer protections, stunt the state’s sports wagering market, and put mobile-first operators, such as DraftKings, at a competitive disadvantage compared to others.”
Despite the plea from Massachusetts’ only home-grown operator, commissioners couldn’t find a reason to reconsider the timeline.
“There’s nothing in this filing that is new or correcting a record. They spoke their mind on the 22nd and we were all aware of it when we took the vote,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said while pointing out that she “took issue” with DraftKings suggesting that discussion around the launch was tied to timelines. O’Brien said that the commission spent considerable time on policy, and she wrapped up her comments Thursday saying, “I don’t think there is any reason to take a vote or go any further other than what we are doing today.”
"The Bay State is expected to rake in at least $70 million from gaming licenses, and another $70 million per year in revenue once sports betting begins, lawmakers said"
Massachusetts could hit $70M annual jackpot for sports betting revenue https://t.co/QrsCkwWauX
— Alfonso Straffon 🇨🇷🇺🇸🇲🇽 (@astraffon) October 26, 2022
Only Commissioner Jordan Maynard voiced concerns about splitting the launches, noting that he is concerned about giving some operators a “leg up.” He suggested that information gathered from a wagering kiosk at one of the retail sportsbooks could be passed on to a digital partner, and that’s not an opportunity that untethered, or stand-alone, platforms will have. Despite that, Maynard’s concerns about delaying the launch timeline overrode his concerns about “equity.”
“If we open this matter back up, it could change timelines completely.,” Maynard said. “We could go past the March date if we’re not careful. For those reasons, I would rather stick with” the decision. Maynard added that he would like to continue to work with the commission to “level the playing field” once operators are live.
Application evaluation rule passed
The MGC voted to approve a revised rule relating to evaluating licenses as well as the small business impact statement, but opted to delay a vote on a series of six rules under the heading of “Sports Wagering Operator Licensing Framework” in order to have revisions. The commission is set to meet again in two weeks.
When Massachusetts launches, it will become the biggest state in New England to offer legal wagering. Border states Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island all offer digital betting, and DraftKings has a monopoly on both brick-and-mortar and mobile betting in New Hampshire.
Maine lawmakers approved in-person sports betting earlier this year, but launch is still likely a year away. Vermont lawmakers have not yet legalized, though there has been ongoing discussion on the issue.