Gaming Commission on Massachusetts Sports Betting Launch: “We Need to Take our Time”

Two “P’s” are at the forefront of Massachusetts sports betting, according to an open meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on Thursday: preparation and patience.

Even while the Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act is sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting action before it potentially becomes law, the MGC has been working to prepare for that possibility.

Commission members, responding to speculation on a possible timeline and launch date (should Gov. Charlie Baker sign the bill), stressed patience.

“This isn’t something that will happen overnight, MGC Commissioner Bradford Hill said during Thursday’s meeting. “[This is a] process we go through, and that just doesn’t happen overnight. We are going to do this right, and in order to do this right, we need to take our time a little bit. This is going to take a little longer than people anticipate.

The Commission met for more than an hour on Thursday to discuss several sports betting issues but did not release a timeline or launch date.

Fortunately, Commonwealth officials have been laying the groundwork in anticipation that a bill is signed into law.

“We have been busy preparing, which puts us in a position [that puts] us ahead of the game, and that’s the good news,” said Commission Chair Cathy Judd-Stein. “We won’t compromise the integrity of gaming, and the quality of the product we are regulating.”

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What the Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act Would Do

On Aug. 1, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act, sending the bill to the Governor, who has ten days to either sign it or take no action.

If that bill is signed into law, this is what it would mean for sports betting in the Commonwealth:

  • Online and retail wagering would both be allowed by bettors at least 21 years of age.
  • Bettors will be unable to place wagers on in-state colleges, except where those teams are participating in a “collegiate tournament.”
  • Sportsbooks will be taxed 15% on net revenues from in-person wagers.
  • Online sportsbooks will be taxed at a 20% rate on net revenues.
  • Sports wagers may not be placed via a credit card in Massachusetts.
  • Sports betting kiosks are not approved in the bill, though it does include a provision for studying that issue.
  • Retail sportsbooks at professional sports venues (such as Fenway Park or Gillette Stadium) are not included in the initial bill.

Tax revenue may not be fully fleshed out by the bill currently on the table, as evidenced by the speculation on whether Massachusetts will tax sportsbooks on costs associated with acquiring customers, such as offers and bonuses.

“Promo play has been a hot-button issue, in regards to tax purposes,” Judd-Stein said.

Governor Baker will need to sign the Massachusetts Sports Wagering Act by Aug. 10 for it to become law.

Massachusetts is surrounded by several states that have implemented legal sports betting markets, including Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island.

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Cautions Against Illegal Sportsbooks

A prominent reason many states pass sports betting laws is to eliminate illegal activity, which was cited during the meeting.

“[This bill] brings sports wagering out of the underground economy, casting sunshine on something that had no safeguards,” Judd-Stein said.

The MGC stressed that should sports betting become law in the Commonwealth, it’s likely that illegal off-shore sports betting operators would seek to target Massachusetts citizens who may be confused about the legality of certain sportsbooks and a timeline.

She cautioned that “nefarious operators may seek to gain customers during this period as we await the governor’s decision.”

Hill addressed the need to be diligent in devising a sports betting regulatory process that is thorough and protects consumers.

“Here in Massachusetts, we have very high standards, and I think we have a reputation for that. I don’t want to see us jeopardize those standards,” Hill said.

“This committee cares a lot about the public safety aspect of this issue,” Commissioner Jordan Maynard said.

MGC Proposes Creation of a Sports Wagering Division

Responding to concerns from other jurisdictions, the MGC is recommending the creation of a separate Sports Wagering Division within the Gaming Division, according to Commissioner Hill.

Commissioners and Karen Wells, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, discussed approving an amended organizational chart for the MGC. This would include a new Division of Sports Wagering, which would require the hiring of a Division Chief and potentially a few employees, according to Wells.

Wells echoed the commitment to laying out a realistic timeline should the bill be signed into law.

“Integrity in the implementation of sports wagering is important. We only get one shot to get it right,” Wells said.

About the Author

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a writer and contributor for Massachusetts Casinos. He is an accomplished author, who has written three books about sports. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball.