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November 28, 2022

Commission eyes vote on rules for sports betting vetting

A large brick building with columns in front and a gold dome on top with a long staircase leading up to it and an American flag on the left hand side. Photo | Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts Massachusetts State House

Regulators at the Mass. Gaming Commission can shift from hypotheticals to actual applications now that they have more than a dozen requests for sports betting licenses in hand, and the public scrubbing of those applications looks poised to kick off once the calendar flips to December.

The Gaming Commission received 15 total sports betting operator applications by its Monday deadline, including just six applications for the seven available mobile-only betting licenses, the commission announced Monday.

The Gaming Commission is working to implement legal wagering in Massachusetts with a target of "late January" to start in-person betting at the casinos and slots parlor, and an "early March" goal for the start of mobile betting. That timeline would allow for in-person betting by the Super Bowl and online betting by March Madness.

Regulations, including some up for a final approval vote at the commission's Dec. 1 meeting, spell out the process by which regulators will consider the applications and the criteria they will use. No one weighed in on the regulations that got their official public hearing Tuesday morning, setting them up to be finalized next week.

First, Executive Director Karen Wells (or someone she delegates to) will check each application for "administrative completeness." If a company got its application in early, they had until Monday's deadline to cure any administrative issues with their filing. If administrative deficiencies are found after the deadline, the company has to request an extension from the commission to update its application.

Once an application clears Wells' administrative review, it moves on to the full commission of five for a review of its merits. The commissioners have broad authority to refer applications to investigators, other agencies, outside consultants, and to require the applicant to provide supplemental information.

The pending regulations list a number of factors the regulators are supposed to analyze and consider "in no particular order, and giving any particular weights, or no weight, to any factor," like an applicant's experience with sports betting, the specific technology an applicant plans to use, the jobs and economic benefits an applicant can offer Massachusetts, responsible gaming plans, and more. Per the regulations, commissioners are required to "deliberate on license applications in a public meeting."

Meanwhile, the commission's Investigations and Enforcement Bureau will be conducting background investigations on the suitability of all the companies and executives that want to operate sports betting here.

When it comes to the six applications the commission received for the maximum of seven mobile-only betting licenses, commissioners will be required under the pending regulations to consider "the variations between the Applicants as they relate to any other Sports Wagering License Applicants or licensees, and how granting any particular combination of Applications would maximize overall benefits and minimize overall harms or the risk of harms to the Commonwealth."

The commission had given itself the leeway to use a competitive scoring system to cull the applications, but that system may not be needed given that the number of applications did not bump up against the law's cap.

The application review process can also include (or require, as in the case of standalone mobile-only licenses) one or more public hearings for the commission to "receive public feedback on sports wagering license applications; allow any Applicant to make a presentation; and allow any Applicant to respond to questions or public comments as directed by the chair or their designee." The regulations later include a line that requires "an opportunity for public feedback at one or more public meetings" before the commission can make a final determination on any standalone mobile-only license.

The commission's Dec. 1 meeting could also see regulators give their final OK to sets of regulations that detail the tax collection process for sports betting, establish the process for the commission to regulate and license or register vendors, and enshrine the commission's formal sports wagering definitions.

At one point, the commission was planning to hold a regular business meeting Tuesday. A meeting notice posted Friday proposed an agenda that would have included an update on the sports betting applications the commission got by its Monday deadline, a status report on casino operations, and a discussion of IT issues related to public records requests. There were no substantive votes contemplated and the meeting was canceled about three hours after it was noticed.

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