Compared to the rest of Massachusetts, time moves at a different pace on Beacon Hill: slower, much slower.
Look at the $3.8 billion economic development bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed last week, which infuses cash across an array of areas that need it, from hospitals to early education providers to small businesses. Lawmakers, stymied by news that Massachusetts would need to return $3 billion to taxpayers, dragged their talks on that bill three months past the end of formal legislative sessions. They dropped tax reform measures from the final bill, pushing that question off onto next year’s agenda.
Meanwhile, after more than a year of work, the special commission tasked with reimagining the state’s seal and motto is closing in on its Dec. 31 deadline with a stack of unanswered questions, including how it will spend a newly allocated $100,000, what kind of public outreach it should conduct — and most importantly, what a new seal or motto should actually include.
For eager gamblers, the wait for sports betting to launch in Massachusetts could seem part of that same pattern of slow-walked decisions. But four years after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved the way for states to allow sports betting and three months after Baker signed a bill doing just that in Massachusetts, the holdup at this point isn’t a product of inertia as much as the unglamorous intricacies of standing up and regulating a new industry.
With that in mind, here are three things to know about where the sports betting process stands in Massachusetts.
It won’t happen this year.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the state agency that already oversees casinos and horse racing, is targeting a two-phase launch. Under the commissioners’ intended timeline, existing gaming facilities — Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino in Everett — would be able to begin offering sports wagering in late January, in time for the Super Bowl. They’re eyeing an early March window for mobile betting to go live, which would allow college basketball fans to place bets for March Madness.
Commissioners have cautioned that unforeseen issues could pop up and delay the start, so those dates may not be set in stone. While some legislative leaders had voiced hope that sports betting would be up and running quickly once the law was signed, the regulators have said they want to make sure they take the time they need to get things right and set up an above-board market.
There’s a lot on their plate as they work toward those 2023 targets: the commission has identified about 225 regulations that will need to be put in place. Seven regulations and regulatory amendments, covering topics like protecting underage youth, occupational licenses and sports wagering equipment, are teed up for review and possible votes at a Gaming Commission meeting today.
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Twenty-nine potential sports betting operators submitted surveys to the Gaming Commission by an October deadline. The survey was a first step in the application process, and it’s possible not all of those will submit full applications, which are due with a $200,000 processing fee by next Monday.
Mobile sports betting generated the most interest, with surveys submitted from 23 potential applicants — including the Boston-based DraftKings.
The law sets the maximum number of mobile betting licenses at seven. Commissioners have said that, if a flood of applications comes in for those licenses, assessing each would-be operator could take more time than anticipated and make that early March launch date less realistic.
The state expects to collect $60 million a year.
The law establishes a 15% tax on bets placed in person, with mobile bets taxed at 20%. Lawmakers said when they passed the bill that it would generate an estimated $60 million in annual tax revenue. The state also expects to collect as much as $80 million in initial licensing fees that will need to be renewed every five years.
Compared to the state’s more than $50 billion annual budget, tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue is a relatively small addition. Until bets can legally be placed here, though, it’s money that in many cases is being pocketed instead by the black market or by states like Connecticut that already have authorized wagering operations up-and-running.