Encore Boston Harbor became the first Massachusetts property to get a license for a brick-and-mortar sportsbook when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission unanimously voted Thursday to award one to it. The decision came after the MGC chose to defer decisions on licenses for PENN Entertainment’s Plainridge Park and MGM Springfield.
On Tuesday, the MGC opted to delay a decision on licensing Plainridge Park due to questions surrounding the relationship between owner PENN Entertainment and Barstool Sportsbook, which will operate Plainridge Park’s retail location and digital platform. Commissioners pointed to a New York Times story about Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy — a native of Massachusetts — saying they are concerned that Portnoy and Barstool don’t meet the commission’s high integrity standards.
On Wednesday, the commission deferred issuing a license to MGM Springfield because it said the company’s application was too closely tied to the BetMGM digital application, which has not yet been reviewed. The commission reviewed Category 1 (retail) applications for the state’s three casinos this week, with plans to review Category 3 (digital) applications next week. It will also review digital applications from Caesars Sportsbook, which has a deal in place to take Encore Boston Harbor’s second skin, and Fanatics Sportsbook, which will operate under Plainridge Park’s second skin. MGM also has two digital platforms available, but has not announced a partner for the second one.
In-person sports betting is set to launch in “late January” in Massachusetts, and digital is set for “early March.”
Kiosks will be … everywhere
Thursday’s meeting went more than six hours, as commissioners had procedural questions as well as questions relating to kiosks, responsible gaming, and the relationship between Encore Boston Harbor and WynnBET, which will operate the retail and digital sportsbooks. In the end, the MGC decided that its questions about that relationship were more narrow in scope than the questions it had for MGM the previous day and chose to move forward.
“I felt like with MGM, that I needed to see [the BetMGM application] in its entirety, but for this one, I don’t need the application in front of me, but I’d like the questions answered,” said Commissioner Nakisha Skinner.
Commissioners moved forward after their legal counsel, Todd Grossman, said, “I don’t think there are any ‘right’ lines. I think it’s clearly appropriate, and you do have the [WynnBET] application in front of you,” though it can’t be used for “final consideration” of the Category 3 license.
Early in the meeting, commissioners peppered Wynn Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jacqui Krum with questions about Encore’s plan to put kiosks in its parking garage and an idea to temporarily move kiosks into event spaces. As part of its proposal, Encore Boston Harbor outlined a plan to have a park-and-play area with kiosks in its parking garage. The space will be designed for customers to make bets without having to enter the facility. Krum said there will be a 15-minute time limit in the kiosk parking area and that the area will be constantly monitored by both security and parking attendants.
With regard to moving kiosks into event spaces, the implication is that Encore Boston Harbor representatives are thinking ahead to having parties around events like the Super Bowl, March Madness, or other sports championships. The idea would be to temporarily put kiosks into spaces for use during these gatherings, but Krum indicated that the idea is on Encore’s “wish list” and is not included in its application.
Inside the new book
Encore Boston Harbor won’t create a new space for its sportsbook but will convert its current sports bar into a WynnBET sportsbook when operators are able to go live. The company will also locate kiosks around the gaming floor, on the mezzanine level, and in the parking garage.
It's official! Encore Boston Harbor has been approved a sports wagering license! "Boston's Sportsbook" will open in Early 2023. pic.twitter.com/uFAdkwhYBG
— Encore Boston Harbor (@EncoreResortBH) December 8, 2022
The sports bar is outfitted with 70 televisions, including a 10-foot high and 123-foot-long video wall that wraps around the area that will house teller windows. The space also has multiple bar areas, easy access to restaurants, including Shake Shack, and club-style seating.
Though the MGC didn’t commit to it, and earlier in the week staff said it would continue to move forward even without other licenses having been issued, it’s possible that the commission will vote on the MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Category 1 licenses next week.