Start dates for in-person sports betting set
Soft launch set for January 30, public betting starts in February
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
THE GAMING COMMISSION on Thursday narrowed the launch date for in-person sports betting in Massachusetts and it appears as if the first bets could be placed during a “soft launch” on Monday, January 30 by people hand-picked by the commission and the betting companies.
The rollout that the commission discussed but did not take a vote on during Thursday’s meeting is similar to the way that it opened the state’s casinos and slots parlor: one commissioner would visit each of the facilities (Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor in Everett) to observe how they handle taking bets from staff and invited guests. In-person betting would become available to the public the following day, Tuesday, January 31. Executive Director Karen Wells suggested that proceeds from the soft launch might be donated to charity.
“That includes just basically having real-life testing with parties. You may remember this from the casino launches where they would have staff and invited guests only be allowed to bet,” Wells said. She added, “Historically, they’ve assigned a commissioner to go to the property when they’re doing the soft launch or the test night … and then that commissioner would make sure everything was in order and sign off for the launch the next day.”
“That’s significant that it has to be dependent on that. GLI, their whole business is based on integrity so they cannot pass over any kind of issue with respect to the equipment,” Wells said.
The executive director said Thursday that the commission could vote to award the certificates of operations that each licensee needs in order to take bets on January 27, so long as everything goes smoothly with equipment testing.
The plan as outlined by commission chair Kathy Judd-Stein on Thursday is to have Commissioner Jordan Maynard attend Plainridge Park’s launch, Commissioner Brad Hill serve as the observer at MGM Springfield, and Commissioner Eileen O’Brien represent the commission at Encore’s soft launch.
But the discussion Thursday was not without some friction. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner’s name had been picked out of a cup to be the observer at Encore, but she said she was not available on January 30 and instead asked that the Gaming Commission push its rollout dates back by one day to have the soft launch on January 31 and the public start of betting on February 1 so she could be part of the process.
“Is there any reason why we couldn’t do the verification on the 31st with a February 1st launch? Because, again, I did communicate, again, with a couple of folks that I was not available on Monday the 30th and so I would have at least liked to have discussion in advance of this public discussion,” Skinner said, later adding that the commitment she has on January 30 has been on her calendar for more than a year.
There was no appetite among other commissioners to delay the launch of sports betting, even by a day.
“I understand,” Judd-Stein told Skinner. “I feel that we’ve made a commitment to a deadline and the end of January is the end of January, and it’s not February 1.”
Wells and Judd-Stein were two of the three people Skinner notified of her scheduling conflict, she said.