BOSTON (SHNS) – Staffers at the Gaming Commission are plugging away behind the scenes to make legal sports betting a reality in Massachusetts and one official said Thursday that things so far are “running on schedule as we had hoped.”
Thursday’s commission meeting featured a lot of the detailed and mundane work that’s necessary for regulators to actually launch in-person betting by their “late January” target and start mobile betting by their “early March” goal — and a consensus that regulators will not revisit that agreed-to timeline at this time. Commissioners and lawyers worked almost line-by-line through a set of six regulations that together make up the “sports wagering operator licensing framework,” and returned to a revised version of a regulation spelling out the sports betting license application requirements and process. The revised regulation was approved Thursday and the six that were reviewed are expected to come up for a vote at the next commission meeting.
The commission is under pressure to get legal sports betting up and running after the Legislature slow-walked the issue for years and there is a mountain of work before it. About 225 regulations must be drafted, reviewed and adopted, and by carefully sequencing its consideration of regs the commission is largely assembling its plane as it barrels down the runway.
“Our focus continues to be on the regulations. It appears to me that the trains are running on schedule, we’re continuing to gain steam here. The framework is continuing to take shape. The application regulation, of course, has been approved by the commission. We’re going to be momentarily looking at the evaluation process for that application for the award of the licenses, that’s obviously a huge step forward. The licensing framework itself, you’ll be looking at shortly as well. That’s a critical piece of the process including things like temporary licensure, suitability, the conditions and the fees associated with the awards of the licenses. The review of that will begin today,” the commission’s general counsel, Todd Grossman said early in Thursday’s lengthy meeting.
Technical standards are “starting to take shape” and drafts will be sent to commissioners soon, and following that will be regulations related to internal control standards and then “sports wagering-centric regulations,” Grossman said.
“As of right now, we’re running on schedule as we had hoped,” he said.
The regulations are largely the product of a partnership between commission lawyers and outside attorneys from Anderson & Kreiger, a firm tapped by the commission for a variety of legal services. The commission reviewed
Elsewhere within the Gaming Commission offices, the Licensing Division and a few investigators from the Investigations and Enforcement Bureau have been busy over the last 10 days combing through the scoping surveys that potential applicants were required to file by Oct. 17. IEB Director Loretta Lillios said Thursday that that work — identifying which individuals and companies will be considered “qualifiers” and of whom the IEB will have to perform full background checks — is complete. Anyone identified as a potential qualifier will be notified by Friday, she said.
“These scoping surveys were just received last week and they just went through all of them and they have all the materials ready to go,” Executive Director Karen Wells said. “That is an astronomical feat and they are doing a tremendous, tremendous job. I could not be more impressed by Loretta and her whole team, on not only the organization, but the execution. So that’s incredible.”
Towards the end of a roughly six-hour meeting Thursday, the commission turned its attention to a request it got earlier this month from DraftKings asking that the regulators reconsider their vote to stagger the launch of betting. Instead, DraftKings asked in a letter that the commission “use its broad rulemaking authority to promulgate rules and launch retail and mobile sports wagering at the same time” in late January.
The Boston-based company, which previously voiced its opposition to a staggered rollout of legal wagering directly to the commission at a Sept. 22 public roundtable, said in its latest request to regulators that making mobile operators wait to start operations would “artificially limit consumer choice and consumer protections, stunt the state’s sports wagering market, and put mobile first operators, such as DraftKings, at a competitive disadvantage compared to others.”
“Based on the discussion during the Commission’s meeting, it is clear that the timeline decision was made not for policy reasons but, rather, because the Commission believes that it will be a challenge to promulgate regulations in a timely manner,” the company wrote in an unsigned letter. “We respectfully request the Commission reconsider, as other states have recently been able to successfully codify regulations for retail and online sports wagering at the same time and launch both verticals simultaneously.”
Commissioners showed no interest Thursday in acting on the request. Commissioner Jordan Maynard said he was concerned about equity between brick-and-mortar and mobile operators but cautioned that reconsidering the commission’s timeline could mean the launch ends up being later than currently envisioned.
Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said she agreed with Commissioner Brad Hill that the staggered timeline was not something the commission needed to revisit. She said the DraftKings letter contained no new information that the company had not given voice to at the Sept. 22 roundtable.
“We were all aware of it when we took the vote and usually motions to reconsider are based on either new information or some changed circumstance. I don’t see it here at all,” she said. “And for what it’s worth, I did take issue with the representation that our entire discussion about the timeline was solely based on the timing and the possibility of producing regulations in a timely fashion. There was a tremendous amount of policy discussion on all five of us and concerns were expressed about responsible gaming et cetera.”