Massachusetts gaming regulators unanimously voted Thursday afternoon to accept sports betting applications from horse racing and simulcasting centers on an ongoing basis, a break from the upcoming deadline that casinos and online operators will face later this month.
Two companies – Raynham Park and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse – have submitted initial paperwork to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to begin the application process for sports betting in the horse racing and simulcasting track category.
The timeline for launching sportsbooks at these companies has remained unclear in recent months as both Raynham Park and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse have told regulators they need more time to assess their needs, find a sportsbook partner and get physically settled solid locations.
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And during a virtual commission meeting on Thursday, representatives of both said they could not submit a full sports betting application until November 21, which has been set by regulators for casinos and online businesses.
Both Sterling Suffolk Racecourse and Raynham Park need to contract with a sportsbook to operate their online and retail betting.
Rimon’s attorney Steve Eichel, representing Raynham Park, said the company was “hopefully in a couple of weeks or less” away from naming a sports betting partnership, but declined to go into details on Thursday.
“We are negotiating term sheets and trying to finalize those negotiations with a few potential, I should say several potential operators,” Eichel said.
Eichel told MassLive last week that Raynham Park is looking for a sports betting deal that “will give us the largest projected market share,” adding that this can only happen “with an operating partner who is a key player and has real credibility owns on both the consumer marketplace and the Gambling Commission.”
DLA Piper’s attorney Bruce Barnett, representing Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, said the company was “unable” to produce “anything resembling a full application” by November 21.
“We have been in talks with various top-of-the-line operators. Due to the nature of strategic and competitive sensitivities, we don’t feel like we can give many details as to what exactly is happening [with] Negotiations, but we’re making progress,” Barnett said. “We hope to have something soon that we can release to the public and present to the Commission.”
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Sterling Suffolk Racecourse is also in a unique position compared to Raynham Park. While the latter is building a 30,000-square-foot gaming center in Bristol County that will house retail sportsbook, the former has yet to find a physical location.
In a statement to MassLive earlier this week, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse’s newly appointed chief operating officer, Michael Buckley, said the company was “actively working on a number of fronts, including identifying and reviewing the best sportsbooks to work with Sterling Suffolk on the Opening of a premier sports betting venue.”
The Gambling Commission voted last month to authorize a launch for retail betting in casinos in late January and for online betting in early March.
Regulators left themselves leeway to push those dates back if they needed more time to clarify rules, process applications and allow for a competitive bidding process for the seven unbound online sports betting licenses.
But the application process for both in-person betting at casinos and online licenses not tied to a brick-and-mortar operation is in full swing. A variety of companies have expressed interest in applying for sports betting licenses over the past month through an initial survey ahead of the deadline for submitting complete applications.
Also at Thursday’s Gambling Commission meeting, commissioners approved a set of six regulations that make up the “Licensing Framework for Sports Betting Operators”. These include, among other things, regulations on license fees, preliminary approval procedures and suitability assessments.
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Regulators also discussed at length an ordinance barring underage and underage youth from sports betting. The commission postponed a vote on the regulation and decided to reinstate it next week after the commission asked Eileen O’Brien for more time to review the language surrounding access to sports betting kiosks.
And the commission unanimously voted Thursday to interpret the language in the state’s sports betting law to require a $5 million fee for each sports betting license.
The law allows category two operators – racetracks and simulcasting centers – and casinos to offer in-person betting. State law also allows Category 2 operators to offer online wagering through a custom-branded mobile platform, while casinos can offer online wagering through two mobile platforms.
Eichel, Raynham Park’s attorney, questioned whether a Category 2 operator would have to pay a separate fee for each of the retail and wireless operating licenses, which would total $10 million.
The question affects not only Eichel’s customers and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, but any prospective company seeking a horse racing or simulcasting license in Massachusetts. The Hardwick Board of Selectmen, for example, recently shot down an attempt by Commonwealth Equine and Agriculture to open a thoroughbred horse racing and sports betting business.
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Todd Grossman, the commission’s general counsel, said there was a small disagreement over paying a $5 million fee to obtain a sports betting license. That means the crux of the investigation, he said, is who needs to obtain a sports betting license and define the term “qualified gaming establishment”.
“If you will, there is no in-house mobile operation. Each wireless service provider must have a Category 3 license. And in this case, that means the operator has to pay the $5 million fee to get their Category 3 license once they have their license. You can then do Category 2 or Category 1 mobile operations,” he said. “It’s not like a company pays a fee twice. The thing is that anyone who needs a license has to pay the fee once and I think that’s in the law.”