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Massachusetts and Sports Wagering

By - 20 June 2022

Ahead of the IAGA Summit next week in Boston, speaker Cathy Judd-Stein, Chair of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, speaks to G3 about the potential for Massachusetts to allow sports wagering in the state. 

It is an honour that the IAGA is hosting the International Gaming Summit in Boston this summer. The Commonwealth and the city of Boston have so much to offer in terms of culture and history – I hope you’re able to enjoy the city while you’re here for the conference. 

As for so many regulators, there is a great deal that crosses my desk daily. Asking one big question can turn into two and three big questions quickly. Right now, what is front of mind for my fellow commissioners and me is what may happen with sports wagering in the Commonwealth. 

Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, there has been an increased interest in legalising sports wagering across the country. Today 30 states and Washington, DC allow for sports wagers to be taken at retail wagering sites, online or a combination of both. Five additional states have authorised, but not yet launched sports wagering. 

In the years since, Governor Baker and legislators in my home state of Massachusetts have filed several bills to legalise sports wagering in the Commonwealth. Last summer, the Massachusetts House passed a sports wagering proposal and just a few months ago, the Massachusetts Senate passed their own version. While these bills look to accomplish a similar goal, the policies they propose vary in scope. A common denominator in each bill is that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) would be designated the regulator of the new industry. 

Currently, a conference committee has been established between the two chambers to negotiate what shape a compromise bill may take. There isn’t a lot that can be predicted about what the Legislature may or may not include in a potential final version of a bill, and how and if sports wagering will be implemented is still embedded in the legislative process. However, appreciating what our potential role might be in the new industry, the MGC has kept an eye on the various proposals, responded to the Legislature when our opinion is sought, and continues to assess potential needs should a bill be signed into law. 

Our aim is to understand our current capacity, learn what best practices can be replicated from other states, and identify pain points to be avoided. If a bill is passed and signed into law in the Commonwealth, the MGC is committed to implementing sports wagering thoughtfully, thoroughly, and without unnecessary delay. 

An essential component of all our work is a focus on responsible gaming with an eye to the research that helps guide our decision making. The Massachusetts Legislature was thoughtful when they legalised casino gambling in the Commonwealth to put a heavy emphasis on responsible gaming and the sports wagering bills currently before the Legislature have a similar focus. Our licensees have been great partners working with the MGC and our stakeholders to ensure there are protections and resources in place for those who need them. 

Our Research and Responsible Gaming team has developed a comprehensive research agenda to study and assess the social and economic impacts of casino gambling, and the MGC has made that research open and available. In June of last year, a white paper was released outlining responsible gaming principles for sports wagering policy and practice. The paper provided an overview of how the MGC’s Responsible Gaming Framework would relate to sports wagering. It’s encouraging to know that given the Commonwealth’s longstanding commitment, whatever policy adopted will likely lean heavily on responsible gaming measures and provide resources for people to manage how they gamble, how much they gamble, and when they gamble. 

Also not lost on the MGC is the question of advertising, and what or how much advertising may be a detriment to our shared responsible gaming goals. Recently, our Research and Responsible Gaming team released a White Paper on Responsible Gaming Considerations for Gambling Advertising, which intends to help inform decisions on policies and regulations related to gambling advertising in the Commonwealth. Any final sports wagering bill would also likely give direction in this area, and if it does, we will seek input from those in the casino industry, our fellow regulators across the country, and our partners who are experts in responsible gaming.  

The role the MGC will play in implementing sports wagering in the Commonwealth will be comprehensive. From developing and accepting applications, licensing the required individuals and entities, ensuring the integrity of the contests wagered on, and insisting that responsible gaming is the nexus of everything we do to regulate this new industry. There will be a lot of questions to answer in the coming months, all equally important to our efforts. We will talk about these questions in a public setting where members of the public and those interested in being a part of the sports wagering industry can have their voice heard. 

When the Legislature passed a bill legalising casino gambling in Massachusetts, they did their due diligence to craft a thoughtful piece of legislation allowing the eventual regulator the latitude needed to build a new industry in the Commonwealth. When it comes to sports wagering, I’ve said before and believe that the Legislature has been extraordinarily thoughtful in their approach. Whatever emerges will reflect the care and attention they took to shape this new industry in the best way for the residents of Massachusetts. 

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