The competitive process for companies to bid for and secure one of the seven digital sports betting licenses created under a new law is likely to be “slow-moving” and involve very detailed applications, experts said during a forum Tuesday afternoon. .
This assessment, provided during a Foley Hoag webinar, is based on the licensing process Massachusetts casinos went through when the industry was just growing. And the deal comes as potential digital sports betting operators face a Thursday deadline to file a non-mandatory notice of intent form with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Foley Hoag counsel Jeremy Meisinger said the casino licensing process that has evolved over the past decade is a good analogy to use for the sports betting industry.
“This is likely to be quite an involved process, there will probably be a lot of very detailed questions,” he said. “Of course, the draft application contains many very detailed questions, asking applicants for a lot of information about their operations and doing so in a competitive manner. Because it’s not just what you do, it’s why you’re a better choice than 10 other entities or 20 other entities or however many are applying.”
The Gaming Commission earlier this month asked companies interested in facilitating sports betting in Massachusetts — regardless of which category they might fall under — to submit a notice of intent by Thursday.
The form asks if a company already has a license in the state or elsewhere, if it is interested in an “interactive sports betting platform,” contact information and a brief description of the company, among other things.
Twelve companies have returned forms to the commission as of Tuesday afternoon, including DraftKings, Bet Fanatics, operators of Raynham Park in Massachusetts, PointsBet Massachusetts and WynnBET. More are expected by the end of Thursday.
Holey Foag partner Kevin Conroy, who specializes in sports betting, said none of the companies approached him as surprise entrants into the field.
“It seemed to be kind of a good combination of people that we know are going to play in this, and then online operators that have bid in other states,” he said.
The Gaming Commission next meets on September 8, when staff members are expected to provide an update on the regulatory process. Commission staff have already identified 225 potential sports betting topics that will require regulation.
The commission is also expected to schedule another roundtable discussion with potential online operators after holding one with current gaming licensees earlier this month.
Even before Gov. Charlie Baker signed a sports betting bill into law earlier this month, the Gaming Commission had been meeting, researching and considering how it would regulate sports betting. This preparatory work allowed regulators in Massachusetts to hit the ground running on several aspects of getting the new industry off the ground.
But a significant amount of work remains on the table, and commissioners have indicated they want to take their time to make sure the sports betting industry here is done right and provides adequate consumer protections.
In the weeks since the legalization of sports betting, the Commission has held a series of meetings to discuss the topic with both staff and current gaming licensees – Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, Plainrdige Park Casino, Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park.
At a roundtable two weeks ago, the five licensed gaming operators made it clear they were ready to start sports betting once the commission puts a regulatory framework in place. And for the most part, licensees agreed that a firm release date would be helpful.
Encore Boston Harbor senior vice president Jacqui Krum previously said a launch date would create a level playing field, though she acknowledged that date will likely be set once the commission is further along in the regulatory process.
Commissioners have tempered expectations in recent weeks for the quick launch of sports betting that state lawmakers had originally hoped for. Before the sports betting bill was signed into law, Commissioner Brad Hill, a former state representative, said implementing the law would take time.
During Tuesday’s webinar, Meisinger said the commission sees enforcement as a “complex problem” and has not set any specific deadlines.
“They will make sure the whole house is in order before they allow betting,” he said. “And so they’re not saying, ‘OK, we’ll be done by September 30,’ because that’s not how they operate. They’re operating on a sort of checklist that we have this in place, this in place, this in place, not a deadline-based format.”
Other outside experts echoed similar sentiments in earlier interviews with MassLive. Sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach said many regulatory bodies across the country are under pressure to move quickly on sports betting.
“But it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. “Ohio and Maryland, in particular, have resisted calls to prepare until the start of the NFL season. I think the regulatory mindset is to fix this and be careful and not be riddled with some of the mistakes that have plagued other states.”
And while the law allows for the use of temporary licenses with a $1 million fee, Foley Hoag partner Jesse Alderman said the commission hasn’t indicated they want to use them anytime soon.
“We take the dim view that even though the statute allows for temporary sports betting licenses, at least for brick-and-mortar venues, premises inside existing gaming facilities and physical simulcast facilities, we don’t see the commission rushing for that,” he said.