Which Massachusetts Retail Sportsbook Will Launch First? A Breakdown
In the race for approval of retail sportsbook licenses, Encore Boston Harbor claimed first place in Massachusetts.
The state’s most profitable casino received unanimous approval on Dec. 8 from members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to offer in-person sports wagering. The MGC has yet to approve the applications of other applicants for a retail sports betting license, including:
- MGM Springfield
- Plainridge Park Casino
- Raynham Park
- Suffolk Downs
The timeline for approval for other operators will vary based on several factors. The state’s other two casinos, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park, are experiencing unexpected hurdles due to increased scrutiny of their applications by the MGC. The casinos are classified as Category 1 operators.
The Massachusetts sports betting applications from the simulcast centers, Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs, have different deadlines and parameters for approval per MGC guidelines. The simulcast centers are Category 2 operators.
Category 3 operators are online sports betting operators, and a few are partnered with Category 1 and 2 operators. However, each Category 3 operator has to submit a standalone application.
MGM Springfield’s Missteps and Delay
All applications for sports betting licenses were due Nov. 21, along with a $200,000 fee. While MGM Springfield paid the fee by the deadline, the application came two days later, making it late.
Like Encore, MGM Springfield will also offer online sports betting via BetMGM. During the MGC’s Nov. 29 open meeting, commissioners discussed the late application after hearing from Augustine Kim, MGM Resorts’ international vice president, and legal counsel. He said that a “miscommunication” due to confusion about assignments for employees involved in submitting applications for retail and mobile sportsbook licenses led to the late submission.
“I inadequately communicated to my corporate team about what they were supposed to do,” Kim said.
There are provisions in the state’s evolving sports betting regulations to allow for late applications. The MGC discussed the provisions and accepted MGM Springfield’s late application unanimously.
“MGM Springfield is not really competing against another entity in order to receive the license,” MGC Executive Director Karen Wells said. “So, therefore, the delay of a couple of days does not impact any other party, and no other party would be aggrieved.”
MGM’s Springfield mobile betting partner is BetMGM, an app owned by the casino’s parent company, MGM Resorts International. Available in 20 states, BetMGM will have to get approval as a Category 3 operator from the MGC to open for business in Massachusetts.
When Will the MGC Vote on MGM Springfield?
Since MGM Springfield’s retail sports betting application included numerous references to the casino’s relationship with BetMGM, the MGC decided to delay voting on the Category 1 license until it reviews BetMGM’s application on Dec. 14.
MGC Commissioner Nakisha Skinner expressed her reservations about MGM’s Springfield’s application and its reliance on information about BetMGM.
“I’m not terribly pleased with the number of referrals to the BetMGM mobile betting application,” she said. “Much of the information that would be necessary to completely and comprehensively consider the MGM Springfield application is essentially missing.”
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Plainridge Park’s Barstool Problem
Earlier this month, the MGC delayed voting on Plainridge Park Casino’s (PPC) sports betting application.
PPC’s issues with the MGC date back to February, when the regulatory agency’s investigators began monitoring the casino and its relationship with Barstool Sports.
PENN Gaming operates PPC and owns a 36% stake in Barstool Sports. The owner of Barstool, Dave Portnoy, has been under legal fire all year due to lawsuits against him alleging sexual misconduct. Several news reports and an academic study also detail alleged hostile working conditions at Barstool for women and minorities.
A recent New York Times article described Portnoy as a “degenerate gambler” and published allegations that Barstool targets minors and college students. The MGC’s public meetings have included extensive discussions on the importance of deterring underage gambling and the penalties operators will face if they target that demographic.
“PENN Entertainment and Plainridge Park Casino have hitched themselves to the Barstool Sports brand,” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said. “This raises concerns over the integrity elements involved in the licensure process. To me, not delving into what that means in terms of suitability, honesty, and integrity of the applicant, I think it bears a discussion by this commission.”
The MGC will revisit the Plainridge Park application and discussion of Barstool Sports on Dec. 19 and indicated that proceedings “may carry into Tuesday, Dec. 20.”
Different Approach for Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs
The MGC provided Category 2 operators with a more relaxed deadline for MA sports betting license applications, with submissions accepted on a rolling basis.
Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs can offer retail and mobile sports betting. However, both operators have indicated that they will not have in-person sports wagering available in January when the MGC expects retail sportsbooks to open.
Suffolk Downs is looking for a location to house a retail sportsbook. Raynham Park is undergoing construction after bulldozing its previous simulcast building to build a new facility. It’s slated to include a gaming area with betting windows and automated kiosks.
As such, the timeline for Category 2 operators to open retail sportsbooks is uncertain. At the current pace, it’s doubtful they will be able to service sports betting fans in 2023.
Can I Watch the MGC Sports Betting License Meetings?
The MGC continues its intense pace of public meetings and application reviews, with the last meeting set for Tuesday, Dec. 20. Consequently, more licenses should be approved before the end of the year. All meetings are live streamed and replays are available on the MGC’s YouTube channel.
Which MA Retail Sportsbook Will Open First?
With the Category 2 operators not projected to launch in January, this question comes down to the three Category 1 applications: MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park Casino.
If the speed with which the license gets approved has any bearing, the retail sportsbook at Encore Boston Harbor would open first. It will be a WynnBET retail sportsbook.