MA sports gambling: Early 2023 eyed for in-person and mobile betting

Under the “most aggressive” timeline that the Gaming Commission’s executive director thinks is doable, in-person sports betting could begin in Massachusetts in January followed by the launch of mobile betting at the end of February. But indications from Thursday’s meeting were that commissioners were not entirely on board.

After a tedious all-day meeting that stretched the limits of commissioners’ and staff’s patience, the Gaming Commission failed to find resolution Thursday on any potential timeline for it to roll out legal sports betting. Instead, the commission recessed after 6 p.m. Thursday with a plan to try again on Friday in a meeting being called on an emergency basis.

“I am very concerned about the rate of our decision-making. I am very concerned about it,” Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said as the eight-plus hour meeting neared its anticlimactic end. “I am concerned about our ability to move forward.”

The whole day was marked by disagreements, debates and a touch of dysfunction, but what really tripped the commission up was the question of when legal betting might begin and how. While there was some discussion of voting to target an in-person betting launch by the Super Bowl and a launch of mobile betting by the March Madness tournament, no such vote happened. Thursday’s meeting revealed that commissioners and staff are not all on the same page as the agency struggles to make legal sports betting a reality in Massachusetts.

Putting extensive caveats on the first real indication of the commission’s thinking as it relates to the start of legal betting, Executive Director Karen Wells on Thursday presented the commission with a rough timeline of how the next few months of sports betting implementation may play out in Massachusetts. She made clear that what she put forward was not a recommendation, but an illustration of the practical realities of the commission’s process and the time those steps will take.

For example, she said that her timeline assumed the commission would approve its sports betting application Thursday and not put it out for a public comment period. But commissioners made extensive edits to the draft application presented to them Thursday and some have indicated that they want to see the application put out for public comment.

“This is not a definitive timeline,” Wells said. “This is a tool for discussion.”

The commission is under pressure to get legal sports betting up and running after the Legislature slow-walked the issue for years, but regulators have run into hurdles that have complicated their efforts in the nearly two months since Gov. Charlie Baker signed the betting law. Eager bettors are clamoring for action, and the commissioners have said they want to implement legal sports betting here without unnecessary delay but also without sacrificing their commitment to consumer protection and gaming integrity.

Commissioner Nakisha Skinner asked repeatedly why the commission was pursuing an “aggressive” timeline and indicated that she was not comfortable with compressing the process in the interest of time.

“If this compressed timeline makes sense and it’s responsible, I’m all for it,” Skinner said. “I just need to understand the rationale for why there is being this compressed timeline advanced as opposed to a reasonable timeline by which the team can get this done.”

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