Massachusetts Gambling Regulators Say Law Needs To Change

Written By Derek Helling on September 19, 2022
massachusetts sports betting temporary licenses rules

There’s a flaw with the law governing Massachusetts sports betting, according to gaming regulators in the state. It’s a matter of the meaning of one word in the text. However, the word is significant enough that regulators say they can’t move forward with getting sports betting in the Bay State up and running unless and until that word changes.

It’s unclear how quickly the Massachusetts legislature might act to correct the language. That is likely what will need to happen, though, as the issue in the text is significant enough to stymie progress for the time being.

The word holding up Massachusetts sports betting

As anyone who has ever pondered what they would do if they discovered a magic genie or been party to a lawsuit knows, language matters. In this particular instance, the word that is holding up the rollout of legal Massachusetts sports betting is “shall.”

According to Matthew Waters of Legal Sports Report, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) laid out the issue at its meeting last Thursday. In line 296 of the governing statute, the text specifies the responsibility of the MGC when it comes to issuing temporary sportsbook licenses.

the commission shall authorize the qualified gaming entity to conduct sports wagering for a period of 1 year under a temporary license or until a final determination on its operator license application is made.

That tenet simply says the commission is the party that will grant the temporary license to all those applicants who meet the qualifications, right? No problem, then? Actually, in the opinion of the MGC, there’s a big problem.

So what’s the big deal?

Under the other tenets of the law, essentially any and every online sportsbook that pays the $1 million licensing fee would qualify. The wording of this part of the law then pretty much forces the commission to grant the license at that point.

If the word “shall” becomes “may” in that sentence, everything changes. The MGC then has the power to actually consider whether applicants are truly ready to offer sports betting in the state responsibly and in compliance with all applicable standards.

Although these licenses are just temporary, the MGC still has the duty of reviewing applicants for suitability. That isn’t to mention the state’s responsibility to citizens to protect them from money laundering schemes and irresponsible operators.

The MGC can’t navigate its way around this issue through administrative rules. Only the state legislature can change the wording of the law. That may happen quickly.

Legislative fix could already be on the horizon

Waters continues in his Legal Sports Report piece by quoting Massachusetts Rep. Dave Muradian, who said the legislature could move on the issue in the near future. In the meantime, the MGC isn’t completely paralyzed.

The commission is set to meet with interested license applicants this week over a separate matter. While the law does not have a cap on the number of temporary licenses the commission can issue, there is a limit to the number of permanent licenses for online wagering.

That potentially means some online sportsbooks could receive temporary licenses and then be forced to shut down once that temporary license expires. The MGC wants to gauge how many online sportsbooks are actually interested in a temporary license given that situation.

That meeting may give Massachusetts residents a better idea of which online sportsbooks could be available soon. The commission definitely shall hope for the legislature to address the other issue soon.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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