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Will Massachusetts Sports Betting Ever Become a Reality?

September 23, 2022

Legislators in Massachusetts have been working hard to get the right sports betting legislation in place so state residents can start betting on sports. Unfortunately, every step forward seems to result in an equal step backward.

At a time when the state’s legislature and gaming regulator have been making progress towards getting the right rules and regulations in place, it looks like one word may bring the entire process to a grinding halt. Apparently, this word is so obtrusive that the powers to be have gone so far as to say they can no longer move forward until the word is changed.

The issue was identified at a Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) meeting that was held on September 15, 2022. The problem occurs in line 296 of the state’s current sports betting legislation, which states the following:

“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.”

According to Matthew Waters of Legal Sports Report, the MGC reported that the word of concern in this passage is “shall.”

What’s the Issue at Hand with the Word SHALL?”

According to the legislation, applicants for a sports betting operator’s license will need to pay a license fee of $1,000,000 for a 5-year license. The use of the term “shall authorize” is being interpreted to mean that once the license fee is paid, the MGC is then obligated to issue the license with no further investigation. That’s not the intent of the law.

According to experts, the intent of this portion of the law is to authorize the MGC to issue a license should they complete a review and deem that a particular sports betting operator is suitable. That would be suitable to offer retail/mobile sports betting services to the residents of Massachusetts. This being the case, the term “shall authorize” should have been “may authorize.”

As things stand at this time, officials from the MGC have stated they can’t find a way to work around the language as it is. That puts the ball squarely in the hands of the state legislature, which will have to convene to change the word or wording of the legislation. How quickly the legislature can and will address this problem is the issue at hand.

What Now?

At this point, the MGC should not be paralyzed. They should be able to move forward with interviews and application reviews with interested sports betting operators. What they won’t be able to do is accept payment of the $1,000,000 license fees.

Meanwhile, there is ample motivation for the state legislature to convene and address this problem sooner rather than later. After all, the state stands to make millions in taxes on gross sports betting revenue.

It’s important to note another involves the concept of temporary licensing. The law provides for unlimited temp licensing but a very limited number of permanent licenses. The MGC needs to resolve how they will deal with temp licensees should they not qualify for a permanent license.


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