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Hold your bets: Massachusetts Gaming Commissioners warn sports betting will take time

MGM_sports_lounge.jpg
Paul Tuthill
/
WAMC
MGM Springfield unveiled this sports viewing lounge in the casino in August 2021 with plans to set up a sportsbook there if sports wagering was legalized in Massachusetts.

Legal wagering is unlikely by kickoff of the football season

Gambling industry regulators in Massachusetts expect to take months to launch legal sports betting.

Meeting this week even before Gov. Charlie Baker put his anticipated signature on the sports wagering bill, the five members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, led by Chair Cathy Judd-Stein, sought to temper expectations about a quick start of the new betting industry pointing to a long regulatory road ahead.

“We won’t compromise the integrity of gaming and the quality of the product we are regulating,” said Judd-Stein.

Staffers at the Commission, who have been working to prepare in the event the legislature legalized sports betting, said writing and adopting new regulations could take 2-3 months. The process to apply for and receive a license to accept sports wagers could take 3-6 months.

Judd-Stein stressed the public needs to remain patient.

“At this very moment while that bill is on the governor’s desk there is no vehicle to place a legal sports wager in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she said. “There are nefarious operators who may still seek to gain customers in this time of transition.”

Pointing to the advance work the Gaming Commission staff has done, State Senator Eric Lesser, the Longmeadow Democrat who was one of the lead negotiators on the sports wagering bill, said in an interview with WAMC that it will take a little time before the infrastructure is in place for legalized betting.

“But our hope is it could happen as soon as this fall,” Lesser said.

However, Commissioner Brad Hill said people should not get their hopes up that sports betting will be available in time for the fall football season.

“I’ve seen some quotes in the newspaper from the public and others that they hope to have this thing up and running in a very, very short amount of time,” Hill said. “And I just want the public to be clear, at least from my view, I’m not speaking for the whole Commission, but from my point of view, this is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate. And I am okay with that.”

Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states could legalize sports wagering, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill in the wee hours of the final day of formal legislative sessions for this year. All of the states that border Massachusetts, with the exception of Vermont, have legal sports betting up and running. Maine has authorized it.

The bill calls for the Gaming Commission to issue licenses for sportsbooks at the state’s casinos and horse racetracks, and to license through competitive bids up to seven mobile betting platforms. It requires a feasibility report by the end of the year on putting sports betting kiosks in restaurants and bars.

Because the casino and racetrack operators have already gone through an extensive vetting process by the Commission, the expectation is that they would be licensed to take sports bets before the mobile-only businesses.

MGM Springfield has already built out a location in the casino for a sportsbook. Chris Kelly, MGM Springfield President, said the company is “thrilled” a sports betting bill finally passed the legislature.

“This new industry will allow Massachusetts to repatriate the revenue and jobs currently being lost to neighboring states and the illegal betting market,” Kelly said. “We look forward to providing local sports fans an immersive, world-class sports watching and betting experience in our sports lounge along with a VIP viewing area within TAP Sports Bar.”

Judd-Stein said the casino and track operators will be invited to public roundtables to discuss their plans for sports betting.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.