Massachusetts is running out of time to get mobile sportsbooks licensed ahead of a planned online sports betting launch before March Madness.
According to Massachusetts Gaming Commission Executive Director Karen Wells, the commission needs to have mobile sportsbooks licensed by Jan. 19 to comfortably meet the state’s plans to launch online sports betting in early March. Those sportsbooks are being selected from among five applicants vying for mobile licenses tied, or “tethered,” to the state’s three casinos, and from among six applicants vying for a standalone “untethered” mobile sportsbook license.
Only one mobile sportsbook, WynnBET, has been licensed in Massachusetts so far, with just two days left to award licenses before the commission’s holiday break next week.
Commissioners are scheduled to take up both tethered and retail sports betting applications Monday and Tuesday. After that, they won’t take up more sports betting applications until Jan. 4, when they’ll start to consider licensing of standalone apps.
Waiting to award licenses for tethered mobile apps until after the holiday break could throw that schedule off.
“We had originally scheduled that all of these decisions needed to be made by the 19th of January to give (us) enough time to review all the internal controls and get all this information ready for an operations certificate to allow for a pre-March Madness launch,” Wells told the commission Wednesday.
“If you push determinations out too far, the operations certification timeline gets compressed, and we may not be able to finish,” she said.
WynnBET, partnered with Encore Boston Harbor casino, was awarded a mobile license Tuesday after more than five hours of questions for the sportsbook. Encore Boston Harbor was the first company to be awarded a Massachusetts sports betting license when it received a retail license last week.
Caesars Sportsbook, Others on Hold in Massachusetts
Caesars Sportsbook is also a mobile partner of Encore. But after more than seven hours of questioning Wednesday, both in public and in executive session, the MGC decided to postpone its decision on Caesars’ tethered application until next week.
The commission said it is waiting on a list of disciplinary actions the company has faced that could factor into the MGC’s license decision. It is also waiting to receive detailed information on the sportsbook’s parent company, Caesars Entertainment (which commission staff admitted it had inadvertently overlooked earlier in the process).
Caesars is expected to have all that information to the MGC sometime Monday, which might allow the commission to take its application back up Monday or Tuesday.
But there are other sportsbooks on hold, too.
BetMGM, Fanatics, and Penn Interactive (Barstool Sports) haven’t had a hearing on their tethered applications at all. As with Caesars, those licensing decisions will need to be made next Monday or Tuesday if the MGC hopes to have up to five tethered licenses awarded before it starts vetting the six untethered sportsbooks in January.
Retail Up First On Monday
Up first for possible licensing Monday will be MGM Springfield. The casino – the sports betting partner for BetMGM in Massachusetts – has been waiting since last week for approval of a retail sports betting license ahead of the commonwealth’s planned retail launch in late January.
By law, tethered sports betting licenses can’t be awarded in Massachusetts until the casino partner receives a retail sports betting license. Once MGM Springfield is awarded its license, the commission’s review — and possible award — of BetMGM’s mobile application can proceed.
The same is true for Penn Interactive and Fanatics. Those apps would be tethered to Plainridge Park Casino, a Penn Entertainment casino that had its application for a retail license deferred last week when questions surfaced about the Barstool brand.
In news that will interest Massachusetts regulators, Barstool faces a fine of at least $250,000 by the Ohio Casino Control Commission for breaking two gaming rules, the Toledo Blade reports: marketing to people under 21 and advertising around a college campus. On Nov. 15, Barstool broadcast live before the Bowling Green vs. Toledo football game.
Both the casino and the two mobile apps are scheduled to be brought before the commission for possible licensing on Monday or Tuesday.
Timeline Still in Play
The MGC is expected to review all six applications for the standalone mobile sports betting licenses between Jan. 4 and Jan. 19. Those applicants are BallyBet, Betr, Betway, DraftKings, FanDuel, and PointsBet.
Ultimately, how many mobile apps – tethered and untethered – are awarded remains to be seen. The commission isn’t required to award a sports betting license to any applicant it believes is unsuitable, based on a laundry list of qualifiers and regulations and state law.
Still, MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein seems intent on launching Massachusetts mobile and retail sports betting on schedule in 2023.
“Everybody has been more than patient,” Judd-Stein said Wednesday. “This is, as you know, quite a process, and we are going to tackle it.”