Compared to the rest of Massachusetts, time moves at a different pace in Beacon Hill: slower, much slower.
Look at the $3.8 billion economic development bill Governor Charlie Baker signed into law last week, which injects money into a range of areas that need it, from hospitals to early education providers to small businesses. Lawmakers, hampered by news that Massachusetts would have to pay $3 billion back to taxpayers, dragged out their talks on that bill three months after formal legislative sessions ended. They dropped tax reform measures from the final bill, moving the issue onto next year’s agenda.
Meanwhile, after more than a year on the job, the special commission charged with reinventing the state seal and motto is approaching its Dec. 31 deadline with a slew of unanswered questions, including how it will spend its newly awarded $100,000, what kind of public awareness it should conduct, and more importantly, what a new seal or motto should actually include.
For eager gamblers, anticipation for the launch of sports betting in Massachusetts might seem like part of that same pattern of slow-paced decisions. But four years after a US Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to allow sports betting and three months after Baker signed a bill doing just that in Massachusetts, the heist at this point isn’t a product of inertia as much as the unglamorous complexities of standing up and regulating a new industry.
With that in mind, here are three things to know about where the sports betting process is in Massachusetts.
That won’t happen this year.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the state agency that already oversees casinos and horse racing, is aiming for a two-phase rollout. Existing gaming facilities — Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino in Everett — would be able to begin offering sports betting in late January, in time for the Super Bowl, according to the commissioners’ anticipated timeline. They are observing an early March window for mobile betting to go live, which would allow college basketball fans to place bets for March Madness.
Commissioners have warned that unforeseen issues could arise and delay the start, so those dates may not be set in stone. While some legislative leaders had expressed hope that sports betting would quickly become operational once the law is signed, regulators said they wanted to make sure they took the time to sort things out and create an honest market.
There’s a lot to do as they work toward those 2023 goals: The commission has identified some 225 regulations that will need to be put in place. Seven regulations and regulatory amendments, covering topics such as child protection, professional licensing and sports betting equipment, are ready for review and possible votes at a Gaming Commission meeting today.
More than two dozen companies are currently in the mix.
Twenty-nine prospective sports betting operators submitted surveys to the Gaming Commission by the October deadline. The survey was a first step in the application process, and it’s possible that not everyone will submit completed applications, which must be paid a $200,000 processing fee by next Monday.
Mobile sports betting generated the most interest, with surveys submitted by 23 potential candidates, including Boston-based DraftKings.
The law sets the maximum number of mobile betting licenses at seven. The commissioners said that if a wave of applications for such licenses arrives, evaluating each would-be operator could take longer than expected and make an early March launch date less realistic.
The state plans to raise $60 million annually.
The law imposes a 15% tax on bets placed in person, with mobile bets taxed at 20%. Lawmakers said when they passed the bill it would generate about $60 million in annual tax revenue. The state also plans to raise up to $80 million in initial license fees that will need to be renewed every five years.
Compared to the state’s $50 billion-plus annual budget, tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues are a relatively small addition. Until bets can be legally placed here, though, that’s money that in many cases is instead pocketed by the black market or by states like Connecticut that already have licensed betting operations up and running.