The licensing of companies that want to offer online sports betting in Massachusetts may be gathering momentum.
Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) resumed on Tuesday their review of an application by a company connected to Caesars Sportsbook. The application was for a "Category 3" license, which would allow the operator to offer mobile sports wagering in the commonwealth.
After a few more hours of questions and answers, which followed a postponement of any licensing decision last week, commissioners ultimately and unanimously decided Caesars met the criteria the state has for running online sports betting sites.
The preliminary suitability finding by the MGC now means Caesars can apply for a temporary license for mobile sports wagering while a full review of the company is conducted.
“I want to thank you for your patience with us as we go through this process,” Commissioner Bradford Hill said after the vote. “Congratulations to you and welcome to Massachusetts.”
A trio of approvals
The approval now means that the MGC has given the nod to three online sportsbook operators. The trio of BetMGM, Caesars, and WynnBET is now in line to begin taking bets over the internet in early March, which is when the MGC is aiming to begin statewide mobile wagering. In-person sports betting at casinos is scheduled to begin in late January.
More approvals could be coming soon as the wording of the state’s sports-betting law currently allows for up to 15 mobile sportsbooks. Commissioners were also scheduled to discuss potential licenses for Barstool Sportsbook and Fanatics on Tuesday, as well as a possible in-person wagering permit for Plainridge Park Casino.
The approvals being granted thus far to online sportsbook operators are for “tethered” licenses for mobile sports betting, as the permits are connected to brick-and-mortar casino operators. Untethered, standalone applications for online sports betting will be taken up in January.
Caesars' mobile sports betting license will be tethered to the license already awarded to the Encore Boston Harbor casinos.
"Caesars Sportsbook is now eligible to request a temporary license to conduct sports wagering while a full suitability review is undertaken by the MGC," the commission said in a press release. "Following a temporary license being granted, Caesars Sportsbook must obtain an operations certificate and meet additional conditions before they can accept wagers on approved sporting events. More information on a universal launch for retail wagering, followed by online wagering will be released as it becomes available."
Still, Tuesday’s approvals were not without some back-and-forth between commissioners and the applicant. That has been typical of the process to date, as the MGC has been very deliberate in obtaining the information it feels it needs to make decisions, and the regulator has not hesitated to defer rulings.
While the MGC found previously that Caesars had met expectations in some aspects of its application, the commissioners found the company's bid lacking when it came to its responsible-gaming efforts and its suitability for a license. Among other things, the commission sought a full list of violations or penalties levied against Caesars, which it received.
However, an issue arose over the suitability section of the application, with one commissioner voicing concerns over making a preliminary ruling with the information that was before them.
“I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with being put in a position to assess suitability, even on a preliminary basis, when we don't have the expertise,” Commissioner Nakisha Skinner. “We're getting… a summary of the information provided in the application. And I don't think that's quite enough for me.”
Yet MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein noted the commission’s lawyer said that a more fulsome report regarding preliminary suitability was not required. And, even if a temporary license were issued to Caesars, the company would still be subject to a full suitability review.
After a break and some technical difficulties, the MGC returned to its public session and continued with the licensing review, albeit with a warning that more information could be sought for any given application.
“It is an aggressive timeline [for issuing sports-betting licenses],” Commissioner Eileen O’Brien said. “We are relying on self-disclosure and sort of reciprocity from other jurisdictions.”
Back to school
There was some discussion among commissioners about the possibility of an additional condition on Caesars' license that would bar the operator from entering into any advertising or marketing partnership with a state college or university. That was triggered by some of the operator's past work, such as a partnership it struck with Louisiana State University.
The condition was eventually set aside after assurances from Caesars that it wasn't intending to strike any such deals in Massachusetts, although the MGC may still ban college partnerships through its regulatory process.
Moreover, there were some stern words for any operator that may try to dupe the commission in trying to obtain its temporary license.
“I want to be clear, though, that if any applicant violates the process or misleads this commission, I know that the full weight and force of this commission will be brought to bear,” Commissioner Jordan Maynard said.