Casinos ready to go on sports betting

At a meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday, the message from the state’s three casinos was clear: We’re ready to roll. To roll out sports betting, that is.

The holdup, however, will be the length of time it takes the commission to develop and implement regulations for the brand new industry. Executive Director Karen Wells said just the legal process of crafting regulations, soliciting public comment, and promulgating them takes time. “If we start today, the process is no shorter than 90 days and that puts us into November,” Wells said.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed sports betting into law on August 10, and state Sen. Eric Lesser, the Senate’s economic development chair, had suggested sports betting could be up and running this fall. But that time frame now appears overly optimistic.

Gaming Commission chair Cathy Judd-Stein said commission staff will present some options by September 8 regarding what should be crafted via regulation, along with a timeline for getting the industry up and running.

At a roundtable with the state’s three casinos, Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, and Encore Boston Harbor, and two racetracks, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park, representatives of the organizations agreed that they want the commission to announce a single launch day by which any licensee who is ready can begin to host sports betting. The new law will allow sports betting in person at any of those five facilities, as well as via mobile app.

It was clear that the three casinos are more advanced in their preparations than the racetracks, likely because they all have parent companies that already operate sports betting elsewhere.

Penn Entertainment, the parent of Plainridge Park, runs 24 retail sports books in 13 states. North Grounsell, general manager for Plainridge Park Casino, said the organization has already developed a list of retail vendors for hardware and software, prepared job descriptions, developed house rules, and identified potential temporary and permanent locations for sports betting. Grounsell said depending on how fast the commission allows betting to start, the casino might begin in a temporary location while working on a more permanent space. “In either scenario, we’ll be able to launch wagering at a time that fits in with the regulatory framework the commission has,” he said.

MGM runs sports books in Nevada, Mississippi, Michigan, New Jersey, and Maryland. MGM Springfield already spent millions of dollars constructing a sports betting lounge with a wall full of televisions and stadium-like chairs. Its cabling and wiring are done, and it just needs to get the betting kiosks in and approved. Gus Kim, vice president and legal counsel, said MGM Springfield will be ready to start sports betting within 90 days of when regulations are finalized.

Like MGM, Encore Boston Harbor already finished construction, with its WynnBET sports bar prepared to welcome betters. It is in the process of finding locations throughout the building to install betting kiosks. Jacqui Krum, senior vice president and general counsel, told the commission that Encore wants guidance about whether it will be allowed to place sports betting kiosks in a ballroom for an event like a viewing party or in part of a garage for guests who want to park, place a bet, and leave. She said hiring and training employees will take about six weeks. Once the commission sets a launch date, she said, “we can work backwards” to get everything ready in time.

Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park are further behind, since both companies are seeking to partner with an outside operator to run sports betting. Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, said he has heard from “all the major operators in the US,” and will choose a partner in the next few weeks.

Both those companies also have land-related issues. Tuttle said Suffolk Downs is renting its property and is in conversations about extending its lease, while also searching for potential  new real estate. Raynham Park attorney Steven Eichel said the family-owned facility plans to demolish its simulcast building, which was formerly used for greyhound racing, and replace it with a new 58,300 square foot facility with a 30,000-square-foot gaming area and a large viewing area with TV screens, theater seating, live tellers, and automated betting kiosks. The new building is currently under construction.

The commission plans to hold another roundtable with companies interested in offering mobile and digital sports betting.




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