Gaming Commission struggling with when to launch sports betting

Regulators float timeline to start placing bets in January

ONE ADVANTAGE Massachusetts has in being late to legalize sports betting – 36th according to the American Gaming Commission – is it can learn from other states on how to stand up the industry.

Research compiled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission made clear that state regulators are looking closely at other states’ operations.

One initial question is how long it will take for sports betting to begin. The commission, in an informational packet compiled for a public meeting on Thursday, looked at 28 states that allow sports betting (including Washington, DC) and how long it took each one after legislation passed for the first wager to be made.  

There are some outliers with states that had super-short or super-long times between the bill’s passage and the start of betting. New Jersey – eager to bolster gambling mecca Atlantic City – passed a bill legalizing sports betting June 11, 2018, and accepted its first wager three days later. New York passed a bill legalizing sports betting in 2013, but had to wait until after a federal ban on sports betting was struck down in 2018 to begin implementing it. It took six years and eight months after the law’s passage to get New York’s industry up and running.

But generally, it’s taken several months. Most of the states took between three and 10 months after a legalization bill passed to stand up their sports betting industry. A few took less or more – it took just one month to set up the industry in Delaware, but Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington, DC, took a year or longer.

Massachusetts appears likely to be within the standard several-month time frame. Gov. Charlie Baker signed Massachusetts’ sports betting law on August 10, 2022. Karen Wells, executive director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, suggested a timeline at Thursday’s meeting that envisions launching in-person sports wagering in January 2023 and mobile betting in February 2023. Wells referred to the timeline as “aggressive” given the amount of time it takes to write regulations and process applications. “There is no way we can do this any earlier,” Wells said.

Compared to other jurisdictions, Well said Massachusetts would be on an “efficient to implement schedule” if the commission adopts her proposed timeline. But after hours of debate Thursday, commissioners were unable to agree on a timeline and recessed to return Friday.

Commissioner Brad Hill said he hopes retail betting could be launched by the Super Bowl, on February 12, 2023, with mobile betting for the NCAA tournament that starts March 12.

Some commissioners worried Wells’ timeline is too aggressive, since it would allow shortcuts like authorizing licenses before background investigations are completed to ensure operators are suitable. “I need to understand the rationale for why there’s being this compressed timeline advanced as opposed to a reasonable timeline by which the team can get this done,” said Commissioner Nakisha Skinner.

One question the Gaming Commission has been considering is whether to launch in-person sports betting at casinos and racetracks at the same time as mobile or digital betting. According to the commission’s research, eight states launched both types of sports betting the same day. The other states do not have online betting or waited some time – generally a month or a few months, but sometimes longer – after starting in-person betting before allowing online betting.

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The research also found that Massachusetts is relatively unique in capping the number of digital betting licenses and requiring a competitive process for these companies. The Massachusetts law will allow seven mobile betting licenses, other than those tied to a brick-and-mortar betting location (i.e., casinos and racetracks). Only three states – Illinois, Maryland, and Virginia – limit the number of sports wagering licenses. Illinois allows seven licenses tied to sports facilities and three mobile licenses. Maryland allows up to 30 in-person and 60 mobile licenses. Virginia allows up to 12 licenses.

The Gaming Commission on Thursday considered a competitive review process that looks at an applicant’s financial stability, economic impact, diversity and inclusion, information technology platform, responsible gaming, and prior experience and background.

No other state has a quirk in its law like Massachusetts does, which could allow an unlimited number of temporary licenses as regulators are processing applications, but only seven permanent licenses. Commissioners and industry operators have raised consumer protection and business concerns about the potential for letting more businesses operate temporarily than will ultimately get licenses.