Massachusetts regulators punted on their first sports betting license decisions, as gaming commissioners wanted to dig deeper into the relationship between a brick-and-mortar casino and one of its proposed mobile-wagering partners.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) decided on Tuesday to defer a decision about a potential in-person sports betting license for PENN Entertainment Inc.-operated Plainridge Park Casino.
Commissioners postponed that decision after a six-hour meeting, which included considerable discussion in connection with PENN’s Barstool Sportsbook.
The plan for Plainridge Park is not only for a Barstool-branded sportsbook at the casino but for the brand to be used for one of the casino’s two potential online sports betting sites afforded to it through a brick-and-mortar permit.
Addressing the 'elephant in the room'
But Barstool was recently the subject of some unflattering press courtesy of the New York Times, of which the gaming regulators were well aware. Commissioner Nakisha Skinner even described the relationship between PENN and Barstool as the “elephant in the room” during the licensing hearing.
What seemed to weigh on commissioners the heaviest was the responsible gaming efforts of PENN, which they lauded, and that of Barstool and its personalities. Part of the New York Times reporting noted David Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, was touring college campuses in the fall talking about betting in front of students who may not be old enough to gamble yet.
“Regulators here in Massachusetts are really at a crossroads because the timing of this article is such that it's right when we are having these conversations,” MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein said during Tuesday’s meeting.
While PENN representatives stressed the company’s responsible-gaming credentials, the MGC ultimately decided to defer any decision until next week, when it is scheduled to review applications for mobile sports betting licenses “tethered” to the state’s three brick-and-mortar casinos.
It was also clear from the start of Tuesday’s meeting that the gaming commission won’t allow itself to be rushed into any decision, and that commissioners intend to keep up their deliberate pace. Massachusetts regulators are targeting a late January start for in-person sports betting at casinos in the state, and an early March launch for mobile wagering.
“The MGC mission commits us to creating a fair, transparent, and participatory process that engenders the confidence of the public and participants,” Judd-Stein said at the start of the meeting. “By law, that process is to maximize the benefit to the Commonwealth. But critically, it must minimize potential or realized negative or unintended consequences.”
Foreshadowing! No license will be awarded today, as the MGC, after a 6-hour meeting, went into a closed-door session and deferred a decision on a PENN-owned casino's sports-betting license until next week at the earliest. Commissioners want to keep probing the PENN/Barstool ties. https://t.co/2mfbT9QUxf— Geoff Zochodne (@GeoffZochodne) December 6, 2022
Tuesday’s meeting also underscored the connection between brick-and-mortar gaming and online wagering under Massachusetts’ model.
PENN’s Plainridge Park Casino is aiming to obtain a “Category 1” license, which will allow the operator to offer legal sports betting on its property. The same license entitles the casino to two online sports betting sites as well, although the operators of those sites need so-called “Category 3” licenses, which have not been awarded yet. Barstool Sportsbook and Fanatics are the two intended mobile sports betting licensees that aim to be “tethered” to Plainridge Park if they obtain their Category 3 licenses.
The MGC is moving on for now, with a licensing hearing on Wednesday for MGM Springfield, which, unsurprisingly, plans on using BetMGM for one of its mobile platforms. Thursday's meeting will be dedicated to a potential retail license for Encore Boston Harbor, which has WynnBET and Caesars Sportsbook lined up as possible mobile operators.