Sports betting in Massachusetts expected to begin on Jan. 31, preceded by soft launch
The Gaming Commission on Thursday moved towards narrowing down the date for the launch of legal in-person sports betting in Massachusetts and it appears as if the first bets could be placed during a "soft launch" on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023 by people hand-picked by the commission and the betting companies.
The rollout that the commission discussed but did not take a vote on during Thursday's meeting is similar to the way that it opened the state's casinos and slots parlor: one commissioner would visit each of the facilities (Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville, MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor in Everett) to observe how they handle taking bets from staff and invited guests. In-person betting would become available to the public the following day, Tuesday, Jan. 31. Executive Director Karen Wells suggested that proceeds from the soft launch might be donated to charity.
"That includes just basically having real life testing with parties. You may remember this from the casino launches where they would have staff and invited guests only be allowed to bet," Wells said. She added, "Historically, they've assigned a commissioner to go to the property when they're doing the soft launch or the test night ... and then that commissioner would make sure everything was in order and sign off for the launch the next day."
The commission had previously announced a "late January" start for retail betting. The Jan. 30/31 launch would allow bettors to plunk down wagers ahead of the Super Bowl (but not for the NFL's conference championship games on Jan. 29), but it is largely dependent upon the commission's equipment and software testing partner Gaming Labs International completing the work it needs to do to ensure that the technology the casinos will use meets the commission's standards.
"That's significant that it has to be dependent on that. GLI, their whole business is based on integrity so they cannot pass over any kind of issue with respect to the equipment," Wells said.
The executive director said Thursday that the commission could vote to award the certificates of operations that each licensee needs in order to take bets on Jan. 27, so long as everything goes smoothly with equipment testing.
The plan as outlined by Judd-Stein on Thursday is to have Commissioner Jordan Maynard attend Plainridge Park's launch, Commissioner Brad Hill will be the observer at MGM Springfield and Commissioner Eileen O'Brien will represent the commission at Encore's soft launch.
But the discussion Thursday was not without some friction. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner's name had been picked out of a cup to be the observer at Encore, but she said she was not available on Jan. 30 and instead asked that the Gaming Commission push its rollout dates back by one day to have the soft launch on Jan. 31 and the public start of betting on Feb. 1 so she could be part of the process.
"Is there any reason why we couldn't do the verification on the 31st with a February 1st launch? Because, again, I did communicate, again, with a couple of folks that I was not available on Monday the 30th and so I would have at least liked to have discussion in advance of this public discussion," Skinner said, later adding that the commitment she has on Jan. 30 has been on her calendar for more than a year.
There was no appetite among other commissioners to delay the launch of sports betting, even by a day.
"I understand," Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein told Skinner. "I feel that we've made a commitment to a deadline and the end of January is the end of January, and it's not February 1."
Skinner dropped the issue and told Judd-Stein, "It seems like you have consensus so you can move forward."
Skinner added, "You know, it just would have been nice if someone had reached out to me before this public meeting, if that my schedule was not going to be able to be accommodated. At least one out of the three individuals who I communicated with could and should have reached out to me before now."
Wells and Judd-Stein were two of the three people Skinner notified of her scheduling conflict, she said.