If Baker signs the sports betting bill, regulators say it could take months to set operator rules

Hold your horses, eager sports bettors.

State officials who would be in charge of licensing and regulating sports betting signaled Thursday that it may take longer for them to make sports wagering a reality in Massachusetts.

With a bill now on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, some proponents have expressed hopes that Bay Staters could be placing wagers in time for the start of the football season.

However, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said Thursday that if the bill is signed into law, setting up detailed rules for sports betting operators would take at least a few months. The process in other states that have already legalized sports betting has sometimes taken longer.

“I want the public to understand, as we as commissioners are starting to understand, that this isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” Commissioner Brad Hill said. He added, “This is going to take a little longer than people probably anticipate, and I’m OK with that because I want to do it right.”

Multiple commissioners said that they’ve been busy planning for the legalization of sports betting for months, but the Gaming Commission did not offer its own specific timeline for initiating legal betting in Massachusetts.

The formal regulatory process takes two to three months from start to finish, a commission lawyer said, and most license application processes in other states take between three and six months, a commission official said.

However, House Speaker Ron Mariano said he expects the state’s two casinos that have already laid out sportsbooks “will open up almost immediately as soon as the launch.” State Sen. Eric Lesser said on sports radio this week that the commission told him “it’ll take about 90 days” for them to start issuing licenses.

“So you’re talking about maybe October that the whole thing could be up and running. So you know, pretty soon, and definitely for the fall football season,” said Lesser.

If the bill is signed by the governor, one of the commission’s first steps will be to hold a roundtable discussion with its existing licensees — Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park Casino, and simulcast centers Raynham Park and Suffolk Downs — to get more detail on their plans for sports betting operations and to get their input as the commission sets out to regulate the new activity.

Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said she envisions additional similar roundtables “in the weeks and months ahead” with responsible gaming organizations and other interested parties.

Commissioners told potential operators and bettors that they can expect the same degree of scrutiny from the commission that the operators of the state’s casinos got when they sought licenses about a decade ago.

Commissioners were careful as their meeting started Thursday to note regularly that sports betting is still illegal in Massachusetts and to remind listeners that they were just taking fairly limited steps to be prepared to move quickly should Baker sign the bill to legalize sports betting.

“While that bill is on the governor’s desk, there is no vehicle to place a legal sports wager in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So there are nefarious operators who may still seek to gain customers in this time of transition,” Judd-Stein said. “So again, we remind the public that sports wagering right now is not legal in Massachusetts.”

With additional reporting by WBUR’s Nik DeCosta-Klipa.

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