BOSTON (State House News Service) – The Mass. Gaming Commission held a sort of tell-and-show session Thursday, first making clear to the eager public that it has a lot of complicated and time-consuming work to do as it launches legal sports betting here and then getting right down to that work during a lengthy and deliberate meeting.

Interest in sports betting is high as a new NFL season kicks off Thursday night, but the regulators on the Gaming Commission spoke to antsy bettors with one voice Thursday morning: You’re going to have to wait a while.

After years of discussion and jockeying on Beacon Hill, the Legislature passed a legal sports betting bill Aug. 1 and it is now up to the commission to write the rules and build the regulatory framework for a new form of legal gambling in Massachusetts. The commission has been working for months to prepare for the task and is now in the early stages of the complex and technical process of getting legal betting off the ground here.

“Our goal with this process is to make sure that such sports wagering is introduced correctly, operationally and legally, for the benefit of integrity and consumer protection. We accomplish this goal by working diligently to develop policy, establish a regulatory structure that equitably, fairly reviews … potential operators,” Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said as she opened the meeting. “We know that the NFL kicks off tonight. And that, due to the nature of sports wagering, interest is piqued. We are rooting for the Pats. Our process will play out as it would have whenever this law came to the Gaming Commission to regulate and we will not compromise getting this right for anything. With that said, we also are aware of the import of timing.”

Each commissioner echoed the chairwoman’s remarks and Commissioner Brad Hill mentioned a segment he heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” morning show while stuck in traffic Thursday morning.

“Today I actually got a little frustrated with it because they had a guest on and they were talking about sports betting and they made a comment that some think that we might be able to make a bet in three weeks at our brick and mortar casinos and our simulcasting facilities. And, obviously, that is not going to happen,” Hill said. “And it was frustrating because of the hundreds of thousands of people that listen to that show and think that they might be able to place a bet here in Massachusetts, it was frustrating.”

When Hill’s comments caught fire on Twitter, the “Toucher and Rich” Twitter account placed blame for the comment on Dan Lifshatz, one half of the sports station’s “Bankroll Boys” betting duo. Lifshatz then tweeted that he had stressed that the three-week timeline was a rumor and posted a screenshot of a conversation with an unidentified person who claimed to have heard from an Encore Boston Harbor employee that Oct. 1 was the “go-live” date for the casino’s sportsbook.

The American Gaming Association reported this week that 23 million Americans plan to place a bet online during the NFL season that kicks off Thursday night, up 18 percent from 2021. About 132 million adults can legally bet on sports in their state, the AGA said. The percentage of NFL bettors who said they will use a bookie this season stood at 13 percent, down from 15 percent last year and 18 percent in 2020.

In the first seven months of 2022, Americans legally wagered more than $50.4 billion on sports, the AGA said. That’s nearly as much as the annual Massachusetts state budget.

Thursday’s Gaming Commission meeting dove deep into the weeds of sports betting regulation and oversight and proved the daunting task that lies ahead of the commission. When she paused the meeting at 1 p.m. for a 30-minute lunch break, Judd-Stein said the commission was two hours and 15 minutes behind its rough schedule for the meeting.

One of the first overarching questions the commission pondered Thursday was how it will actually go about promulgating more than 200 regulations related to sports betting, whether it will use the standard process that takes 60 to 90 days from regulation approval to it taking effect, an emergency regulation process that puts rules in place immediately at the expense of upfront public input, or some combination of the two.

Commissioners wrestled with the idea of emergency regulations, which would require a finding from the commission that “the regulation is necessary for the preservation of the public health, safety or general welfare,” Lon Povich, the former chief legal counsel to Gov. Charlie Baker who is now counsel at an outside firm used by the commission, explained.

“There’s a strong presumption in this bill that the commission should move expeditiously to start this type of gaming and make it available to the public. And there have been some other cases in which the Legislature has given an indication that it wants things to move quickly and that has been a basis to support an emergency regulation finding,” Povich, of Anderson & Kreiger, said. He was referring to a part of the state’s new sports betting law that allows for temporary licensure. That’s the topic of the commission’s meeting next week.

Povich added, “I think in a situation where the commission is tasked with moving promptly, the proper way to do regulations is an emergency basis and can be supported by the language and the case law.”

As the group moved on to consider the very first draft regulations brought forward by the staff, Commissioners Eileen O’Brien and Nakisha Skinner zeroed in on the potential justification for using the emergency regulation process for rules related to independent equipment and software testing lab certification.

“The reason that we are asking to move this reg forward, why we have it as the first reg on the first day we’re doing regs … is if because we know that these two labs are the ones that do this in the United States, if we can move forward with a procurement that limits it to certified independent test labs, we can get them on contract more quickly,” Executive Director Karen Wells said. “And if we can get them on contract more quickly, they can give us the technical expertise not only in [IT’s] side of the house, but also assist with the regulation promulgation on the legal side of the house. So that’s why we’re doing this and why we’re sort of carving that out as something somewhat urgent.”

O’Brien said she was OK with the emergency approach for this particular regulation, “but it is going to be a reg-by-reg question for me.” Skinner made clear that allowing the public an opportunity to weigh in quickly upon any emergency regulation being issued is going to be a key consideration for her.

“How quickly can we get these regulations out for public comment? How quickly can we hold the public hearing … should we proceed with it on an emergency basis? That’s going to be important to me,” Skinner said.

Commission General Counsel Todd Grossman said the commission could schedule public comment for next week on the testing labs regulation it ultimately adopted Thursday.

Povich, who has also worked closely with the state’s new Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission as it got organized and conducted the first round of officer recertification, also suggested that the Gaming Commission could borrow an approach to public comment from the POST Commission.

“I’ve done recent work with another commission where regulations were discussed publicly, comment was invited, not necessarily through a public hearing mechanism, but it was well known what the commission was up to and members of the public did have an opportunity to send in comments,” he said. “So there are sort of hybrid-like models that are allowed.”

As the meeting stretched into the afternoon, some topics were punted to next Thursday’s meeting, like draft regulations around house rules that commissioners felt needed more work before they would be comfortable voting on them and a discussion of an interim policy related to how the commission will license the members of sports betting operators’ executive staff.

In addition to the public meeting scheduled for next Thursday that is expected to again focus largely on sports betting implementation, the Gaming Commission next week also plans to hold a roundtable discussion with responsible gaming groups about the sports betting rollout.

That Sept. 13 forum will be the second roundtable that the commission holds with sports betting stakeholders and Judd-Stein said Thursday that another roundtable with potential mobile sports betting operators will be scheduled for later in September.