Businesses looking to offer sports betting in Massachusetts face a fast-approaching deadline next week to begin the license application process after regulators approved a launch schedule that would see in-person betting begin in January and online in March.
Prospective licensees must submit an initial survey to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission by 5:00 p.m. on October 17, requesting certain company information such as ownership interests, management structure and investors. It is required before a full sports betting application can be completed, the commissioners said.
Sports betting experts who spoke to MassLive said the survey was a quick finding that’s not new to industry players — when the commission met licensed casinos, companies met face-to-face with regulators as part of the scoping process — how it only tries basic information.
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The 42 companies that notified regulators last month of their interest in getting involved in Massachusetts’ sports betting industry ranged from companies looking to open a sportsbook to operators providing the software needed to facilitate online betting .
Foley Hoag’s Kevin Conroy said the surveys would shed light on how many companies are aspiring to one of the seven untied digital betting licenses awarded through a tendering process facilitated by the Gambling Commission.
The number of companies taking the first step in the application process could impact the tentative timeline approved by regulators last week that online sports betting would begin in early March.
“There could be the same group of companies that have previously expressed interest, but I would track that date and pay attention to which companies because the Commission has been pretty specific about you needing to submit a response to that on the 17th or you’re not be considered a suitable candidate,” said Conroy, who follows both sportsbook and the commission closely.
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The sports betting schedule, which the Gambling Commission hashed and voted to approve, also sees a launch of face-to-face betting at casinos in late January. But it took two days of meetings, including an eight-hour hearing, to find consensus after commissioners squabbled over whether the data was too bold.
Commissioners Eileen O’Brien and Nakisha Skinner repeatedly told Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein that Executive Director Karen Wells’ initial recommendation of planning a retail launch in January and an online launch in February was aggressive.
And they maintained that position even after the group signed off in late January and early March. On Friday, Skinner asked why only one set of data was presented to the commissioners.
“I’d like a schedule that doesn’t tax staff and doesn’t focus on sporting events,” she said.
Judd-Stein said the timeline makes sense given “market realities.”
“We could have started in March 2024, Commissioner Skinner,” Judd-Stein said. “We could have done that. We started with something that made sense given the market. Sports betting is focused on the September-March madness.”
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The country’s sports betting law provides for three different categories of sports betting providers.
The first includes the state’s two casinos and a slots salon, allowing them to host both in-person and online betting. The second category is for live horse racing tracks and simulcasting facilities – of which there are two in the state, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park – which allow them to host in-person and online betting as well.
In the last category, the Gambling Commission can issue up to seven licenses for digital or mobile sports betting. Regulators have indicated they plan to hold a competitive bidding process, as many companies — from DraftKings to esports-centric companies like G3 Esports — have expressed interest.
Conroy said the target for early March for online sports betting is “a pretty aggressive schedule”. It will take time to select the seven digital operators, he said, based on the licensing process casinos went through in 2013.
“It takes some time to review the actual applications, meet with those who made applications, review those applications and make decisions about them,” he said in an interview. “So I think March is an aggressive schedule for the untied licenses.”
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The timeline, other experts said, also requires many pieces to snap together quickly. And while some argue the timeline is bold, others say it’s trying to balance a quick launch with ensuring quality for future licensees.
Sportsbook watchers who spoke to MassLive after the two meetings last week said they are also closely monitoring the evaluation criteria the Gambling Commission decides to use in the bidding process for the seven online untied licenses.
The level of competition expected for the seven licenses isn’t the same as that seen by the Gambling Commission in 2014 when it was working to boost the casino industry, experts said, making the application evaluation process “really intriguing.”
Aside from the timeline, Conroy said it was important that the commission signaled that casino-supported and independent online betting should start simultaneously, something companies have signaled they support at previous public meetings.
“If a company was the only company to come first, it would have a great advantage, and consumers would get used to using that platform, and it would be difficult to get consumers to switch to another platform “, he said. “By launching mobile sports betting simultaneously on both untied and tied licensees ensures that no one gets a first mover advantage.”