Before approving sports betting last August, it took Massachusetts politicians more than 4½ years to map out a plan.
It took the Massachusetts Gaming Commission a little under half a year (174 days) to review, engineer, assemble, and test all that was needed before legal wagers on the Super Bowl and other sports events could start pouring in at the state’s three casinos beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
MGC chair Cathy Judd-Stein said she and the four other commissioners, along with the 100-plus members of the MGC staff, encountered no insurmountable curveballs over the course of reviewing thousands of pages of licensee applications and supplemental material as they hammered out more than 250 regulations and held more than 75 public meetings.
“I think that we anticipated, really, a healthy response and interest in the sports-wagering market here in Massachusetts; it’s pretty exciting here — we got that response,” said Judd-Stein. “We’ve been really preparing for any assigned regulatory role well before our governor and speaker signed the law, and I think that preparation really helped us become organized and be able to put everything in place.”
The three casinos — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park — were granted licenses, with 11 temporary licenses granted to mobile operators, who will get their own launch day as soon as March 1.
“I would say that, at this time, no surprises,” said Judd-Stein. “As we go forward to Tuesday, we’ll see what happens. But I’m going to keep on knocking on wood.
“The one thing I’ve learned is that this group, the team here and my fellow commissioners, we’re all pretty nimble, to be able to address matters as they arise.”
The five commissioners will be driving across the state Tuesday, making appearances at all three casinos.
A significant portion of each licensee’s application and public hearing was devoted not only to the technological integrity of their products but meeting MGC expectations on responsible gaming, keeping the brands off the radar of those under the age of 21, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and goals within their workforce.
“The one thing that’s become very clear to me as I’ve gone through this process with my fellow commissioners is that we’re very united on certain values,” said Judd-Stein. “We’ve said [to prospective operators] it’s a peerless privilege and that we want them to be leaders on DEI and also as engaged community members.
“Those values came out, so those are lessons learned, and I think we’re really pleased that the applications really anticipated those values.”
The MGC has been overseeing the brick-and-mortar casinos since 2011.
Before Massachusetts became the 33rd state to legalize sports betting, the MGC was tasked with regulating a facet — online wagering — unfamiliar to it.
The differences did not feel vast, said Judd-Stein.
“The mobile industry is what we live with now — all of us hold our phones, right? — so it’s rapid, it’s accessible, it’s available,” said Judd-Stein. “In terms of the values of the two industries, they are adopting our values, whether it’s our longtime licensees or the new licensees.”
As for preventing advertising, marketing, and branding oversaturation by new licensees vying for market share, “I would say that’s the challenge ahead,” said Judd-Stein. “The applicants and now temporary licensees know exactly how the commission feels, and it’s going to be important for them to strike the right balance between their promotional activities and effective responsible gaming messaging.
“We expect that balance will be struck.”
Still on the to-do list for the MGC will be, beginning Wednesday, taking a look at Caesars Entertainment’s application to operate the sportsbook at Raynham Park. One casino-tethered license, two simulcast facility-tethered licenses, and one untethered online license remain to be awarded, and Suffolk Downs has not yet applied for its sportsbook license.
“I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to meet the deadline that we set, because we thought it would really maximize the benefit for the Commonwealth,” said Judd-Stein. “Fans here are going to be eager to place a wager at our three casinos. We met this deadline, but not with any compromise to integrity or to the consumer protection and safety of the customers that we value so much.”
There’s one more launch day to come.
“We’re anticipating that by the beginning of March, online will start and there’ll be some folks who will be able to place bets here and not neighboring states or in the illegal market,” said Judd-Stein. “And then we’ll have lots of work to do just to continue to be good regulators for the casino gaming world and now this new industry.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at email@example.com.