Gaming Regulators Talk Licensing After Gov. Baker Signs Sports Betting Law

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Gaming regulators will sit down with the state's casinos, simulcast centers and slots parlor next week to get a better sense of what they have planned for sports betting, and the Gaming Commission is thinking about whether those facilities will have a fast track to getting up and running first.

The sports betting law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed Wednesday created a framework that includes two broad categories: in-person betting licensees (with mobile allowances, too) available only to the state's two casinos, two simulcast centers, and one slots parlor, and up to seven separate mobile-only betting licenses available through a competitive process. Because the brick-and-mortar licenses are only available to entities that the Gaming Commission already licenses and works with closely, commissioners and staff wondered Thursday, are those going to be the first betting options the commission allows to open?

"So in terms of timing, are we addressing those facilities first and then dealing with the seven other licenses? Are we doing this all at the same time? I would think, without knowing all the facts, that we would want to get up and running as quick as possible the five entities that are already here -- but understanding that, does that get us in trouble if we give them five and then we take our time with the other seven?" Commissioner Brad Hill asked. "So I know there's a lot of questions that need to be answered."

Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said the commission will meet Thursday with just those five licensees -- Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park -- for the first in a series of roundtable discussions to get more information and to talk more about the process moving forward. Addressing Hill's point, the chairwoman said she wanted to hold the first roundtable to feature the existing licensees "because they are positioned differently."

"I think that there is a real question about who stands up first. My recommendation, if it can work out with the team and their bandwidth and all of their workings, is to kind of do it simultaneously where the licensees that are doing in-person, they can be stood up for retail but at the same time working on the mobile operators because our current licensees are going to be very interested in the mobile op," she said.

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Executive Director Karen Wells said Thursday that her thinking had been to try to pursue both in-person and mobile betting on parallel tracks as much as possible but said those decisions will largely be up to commissioners. Wells also said the commission plans to request that companies interested in seeking one of the seven mobile-only licenses send a notice of intent so the staff can get "a sense of what is the universe of potential applicants as far as numbers."

The commission staff is also going to start developing regulations related to vendor licensing requirements, and is looking into its options for outside help with the development of the technical IT regulations for mobile betting "in an effort to really expedite the implementation of this and make sure we're doing it correctly," Wells said. She said the Gaming Commission used a similar approach about a decade ago when it worked up the regulations for expanded gaming.

"I would like to give my own thank you to the Legislature in the way they crafted the bill. They ensured that there would be the resources for the commission to get this done and get this done quickly," Wells said Thursday. "So we're gonna take advantage of that and we're gonna work with legal, finance and the IT department on [getting] an idea about some assistance on, particularly, the regulation development on the IT side of the house."

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