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Encore Boston snags state's 1st sports betting license

The Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Encore Boston Harbor casino in Everett. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The third time was the charm for the Mass. Gaming Commission as its regulators voted Thursday to award the state's first sports betting license to Encore Boston Harbor after deferring similar votes for other outlets earlier in the week.

The commission's unanimous vote put the Everett casino owned by Wynn Resorts a big step closer to accepting in-person wagers on professional and most college sports, though it cannot accept bets just yet. The commission is targeting "late January" for the start of in-person betting at Encore as well as at the other two gambling centers it already regulates, Plainridge Park Casino and MGM Springfield. Mobile betting could follow by "early March" unless the commission runs into complications.

"I think that this is great for the commonwealth. I know we took the vote saying that, but I do think it's great for the commonwealth," Commissioner Jordan Maynard said, referring to the commission's determination and vote that awarding Encore a sports betting license would "benefit the commonwealth."

Encore was the only of the three so-called Category 1 applicants that secured license approval on the same day that the commission first considered its application. On Tuesday, the commission deferred its vote on the application from Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and on Wednesday put off a vote on MGM Springfield's application.

While the Encore application did not spark as many administrative or policy concerns in commissioners as the other applications did, its hearing Thursday was not without some hiccups. For one thing, the Gaming Commission realized halfway through Thursday's meeting that Encore had not submitted a specific section of their application and the regulators had to vote to agree to accept the late submission.

Commissioners also raised concerns about Encore's plan to put sports betting kiosks in an area of its parking garage for "express" betting. The casino said it would be filing a petition to expand its official gaming floor to include the parking garage sportsbook and other new gaming areas. Because that request would have to be approved on its own before Encore could take bets in its parking garage, commissioners decided they could get into their questions about security at a later meeting.

"I'm not 100% convinced one way or the other on whether the gaming floor should be expanded to include that," Commissioner Eileen O'Brien said. She added, "I don't think it needs to hold this up today. I just make that point that my thumbs up on sufficiency of this application has absolutely no bearing on what I'm going to say or vote on when it comes back in front of us procedurally for a request to actually expand and create that space."

The Gaming Commission is expected to hold meetings starting next week to review the five applications that came in for mobile betting operations tied to one of the casinos or the slots parlor. That would give commissioners a chance to dive more deeply into the connections between PPC and MGM Springfield and their mobile operators.

Next month, the commission plans to hold similar hearings on the six applications for "untethered" mobile betting. That is the only competitive category, though commissioners could elect to award a license to each applicant since they did not get applications for the maximum number of untethered licenses (seven).



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