BOSTON (SHNS) – The Gaming Commission waded into the crowded and complex field of sports wagering issues on which it will soon have to make decisions, and regulators are hoping by the end of the month to have a good idea of how many and which companies are interested in seeking a sports betting license in Massachusetts.

As it prepares to launch a newly legal form of gambling under the close eye of the betting public, the Gaming Commission met Thursday morning with five establishments — Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park — that can apply for licenses that would allow them to accept both in-person bets at physical sportsbooks and also mobile bets through one or two platform partners.

The companies told the commission they are largely ready to go and detailed the work they have been doing to prepare for the legalization of sports betting in Massachusetts. MGM Springfield, for example, said it could launch betting within 90 days of the regulations being made available, and Encore Boston Harbor said it would start hiring immediately after the commission’s timeline for kicking off legal wagering is known.

“One of the things that we, as an operator, look for as we begin our preparation is an official launch date,” North Grounsell, vice president and general manager at Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, said. “And that date’s important because it feeds a lot of other decisions operationally that need to be made in terms of when we will start construction, whether or not we will need a temporary location, the initiation of our recruiting efforts, a goal date for equipment delivery, and a multitude of other operational decisions.”

The commission’s targeted launch date remains elusive.

“Everybody’s interested in timelines,” Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said Thursday without offering her own ideal timeline. She instead asked the licensees about any milestones they see on the path to launching legal bets.

Jacqui Krum, Encore’s senior vice president and general counsel, said she wanted to reiterate Grounsell’s point about the importance of having “a set launch date” so that operators can work backwards and ensure they will be ready at the first possible opportunity to take bets.

But Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said she is “not anticipating we’re gonna say to you, ‘on date X, we anticipate you’ll be ready to go.’ I don’t anticipate that that’s realistic.”

Judd-Stein then said that the commission expects to get a presentation from staff at its Sept. 8 meeting detailing at least some kind of a regulatory framework that would give licensees a little bit more of a sense of the commission’s timeline.

“I think what was a little concerning for us and what we’re trying to work into is if, for instance, the commission decides, ‘OK, we’re gonna get all of our regulations done’ — I’ll make up a date — ‘in 30 days,’ we want to be prepared, we want to be ready to go,” Krum said. “If that’s going to be a longer process, we understand that. But, you know, we’ll calibrate accordingly.”

Operators’ Plans for Sports Betting

Over the course of about four hours, the commission, its staff and representatives from each of the five existing licensees worked through a bevy of issues related to sports betting, from the actual placement of betting kiosks within the facilities to the way promotional play credits are treated for the operators’ tax purposes. MGM Springfield’s representative said the casino plans to put sports betting kiosks only in areas that are currently part of the casino’s technical gaming area, but the other two casino-style facilities had ideas about which the commission wanted more information.

Encore Boston Harbor inquired how the commission would feel about the Everett casino repurposing part of its parking garage to create a quick-stop sports betting option.

“As you know, we’ve been complaining about real estate for a while. So one of the thoughts is potentially creating a location within the garage, which would obviously be cordoned off with security, appropriate security, and surveillance, where it might be helpful for guests who want to just pull up, have short-term parking, come and place a wager, and depart the premises,” Krum said.

Krum promised, “It would be a lovely area within the garage.”

She said Encore envisions using the space in both the short- and long-term, but said the casino is “concerned about the volume and making sure that we have enough space and enough locations for everybody” when betting first launches here. Commissioners did not dismiss the idea out of hand but made clear they had more questions about it.

A quirk in state law made O’Brien, one of the commissioners, “uncomfortable” with Plainridge Park Casino’s idea to place sports betting kiosks in an area near the Plainville facility’s horse track, where bettors can already wager on the races. Massachusetts law requires someone be at least 21 years old to bet on sports, but a person who is at least 18 years old is allowed to bet on horse races.

“We similarly need to monitor that in the current scenario,” Grounsell said. “We have adequate staffing, including, a detail from Plainville [Police Department] occasionally and other security or teller positions who are down there and who are able to monitor that. We could certainly place those kiosks in a location that’s a little bit easier for us to have visibility to. And then of course, surveillance coverage of those types of areas remains strong.”

Grounsell said some kiosks used to take sports bets “have the ability to register player account information” as a means of player ID verification, but that “otherwise we are depending on someone to look to make sure that the person accessing that is of-age.”

The state’s two simulcast centers, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park, said they’ve already started talking with potential sports betting operators to partner with and are either identifying the best real estate for a new permanent physical location (Suffolk Downs) or in the process of building a new facility (Raynham Park).

“Right now, we are working on parallel paths. One is to select the best-in-class sportsbook partner. We’ve had considerable interest in that regard. I have heard from virtually all of the major operators in the U.S., all of whom seem very keen on potentially partnering with us,” Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, said. “So we don’t have a firm decision on that yet, but we will obviously keep the commission abreast of our conversations and we expect … that we will conclude the process of selecting a partner or partners in the coming weeks. Similarly, we are working on a parallel path on real estate options.”

Christopher Carney, owner of Raynham Park, said he and his family company are encouraged by the Gaming Commission’s quick moves towards implementation of legal betting.

“Raynham Park has been a regulated gaming facility for 80 years and we have already begun construction of a 65,000 square foot sportsbook where we will employ 300 people and generate millions in new revenue for the state,” Carney said. “We are looking forward to opening our doors as soon as possible to provide a world-class gaming and entertainment experience as we have done for generations.”

The roundtable Thursday also got into more technical aspects of sports betting, like whether the Gaming Commission will allow operators to bring sports betting equipment into their facilities and get it set up before all of that equipment has been verified to meet Massachusetts-specific standards, whether the Gaming Commission will allow operators to use equipment that’s been licensed in other states initially as this state’s own rules are written, and whether sports betting employees licensed in other states will be allowed to come to Massachusetts to conduct training for new workers.

Commission Executive Director Karen Wells asked that the companies send their house rules for sports betting to the commission’s Investigations and Enforcement Bureau as soon as they are ready for review. “No reason to delay,” she said.

Mobile-Only Licenses

The group the commission met with Thursday makes up the universe of potential applicants for the Category 1 and Category 2 licenses created in the state’s new sports betting law. But the Gaming Commission can also issue up to seven Category 3 licenses that would allow a company to take wagers through a mobile or digital platform, and regulators have said they want to get a better sense of the work ahead of them.

notice of intent form the commission released Wednesday asks that any company interested in any category of license let the commission know by Aug. 31.

“As the MGC continues to work to regulate and stand-up sports wagering in Massachusetts, the MGC is requesting that any entity interested in obtaining a sports wagering license to submit this Notice of Intent so a landscape of interest in sports wagering licenses can come into focus,” the commission said.

The number and scope of responses could inform or influence the commission’s decision about how to proceed with the implementation of sports betting in the Bay State as eager bettors clamor for quick action. Judd-Stein said last week she thinks “there is a real question about who stands up first”: the commission’s current licensees that can take in-person bets or the mobile-only operators that aren’t necessarily connected to companies the commission is already familiar with.

Judd-Stein said Thursday that a later roundtable will include companies interested in the Category 3 licenses. And while the Gaming Commission plans to ask all potential applicants about responsible gaming and advertising measures, she said there will also be at least one standalone roundtable devoted to those issues.

“The MGC puts a premium on these efforts and expects our licensees to as well,” Judd-Stein said.