Encore Boston Harbor Gains First Sportsbook License in Massachusetts History

Encore Boston Harbor made history on Thursday in Massachusetts. That’s after the Wynn Resorts-operated casino was awarded the first sports betting license in the commonwealth.

Encore Boston Harbor WynnBet Massachusetts sports betting
The WynnBet Sportsbook at Encore Boston Harbor could begin taking bets as early as January 2023 after Massachusetts gaming regulators found the casino suitable for sports gambling. Online sports betting operations are scheduled to commence later next year. (Image: Encore Boston Harbor)

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on Thursday found Encore Boston Harbor suitable for a Category 1 sports betting license. Unlike Plainridge Park and MGM Springfield  — which failed earlier this week to win over the five-member gaming commission and prompt a vote during their respective regulatory hearings on their Category 1 sports wagering applications — Wynn officials satisfied all of the state’s concerns.

As a Category 1 sports wagering business, Encore Boston Harbor will be allowed to open a retail sportsbook at the Everett property and two online skins. WynnBet, Wynn Resorts’ sports betting unit, will handle the in-person sportsbook and use one of the internet extensions to operate online.

Caesars Entertainment’s Caesars Sportsbook, seeking market entry in the emerging sports betting state, struck a partnership with Wynn to claim the casino’s other online sports betting extension. Caesars doesn’t have a physical presence in Massachusetts.

Penn, MGM Missteps

Wynn officials came prepared for their MGC meeting on Thursday. Possibly learning from Plainridge and MGM, Encore Boston Harbor was ready for an array of questioning.

The MGC delayed voting on Plainridge’s Category 1 sports betting license because the commission said additional information is needed to address the casino’s operating parent — Penn Entertainment — and its relationship with Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy. Plainridge wants to use its sports betting privileges to bring Barstool Sportsbook to its casino and online.

In August, Penn acquired the remaining 50% stake in Barstool Sports for another $250 million. Since its January 2020 announcement that it would spend $163 million for a 36% stake in Barstool, Penn has paid $450 million for the entire media and sportsbook organization.

Portnoy’s close association with Penn Entertainment caused regulatory concerns in Massachusetts for Plainridge’s sports betting license. That didn’t come as much of a surprise. But the MGC the following day deciding to also hold off on voting on MGM Springfield’s sports betting application sure did.

MGM officials were seemingly caught off guard when commissioners asked for confidential information regarding BetMGM’s inner workings. That came after MGM Springfield conceded that the casino’s current management wouldn’t spearhead the property’s forthcoming sports gambling business. Instead, MGM Springfield plans to contract BetMGM for its sportsbook.

Regulators Appeased

Wynn Resorts had all of the answers the MGC demanded during Thursday’s event.

While commissioners said the initial Category 1 sports betting reviews are to consider the suitability of the primary applicant — the casino — Commissioner Nakisha Skinner said it’s critical for the state to be provided with an in-depth background of the entity that will directly run each brick-and-mortar sportsbook. Regulatory reviews of each partnered online sportsbook will be conducted later.

When you have the same name and the same entity performing in dual functions, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line on where does the vendor become part of the suitability of the applicant and/or a qualifying entity in its own right,” explained Commissioner Eileen O’Brien.

When the MGC asked Wynn officials for clarity about WynnBet’s compliance history in other states, company reps said they were willing to reveal such data in a closed-door session. The commissioners and casino staff met privately for about 10 minutes to discuss WynnBet’s operational past.

After appeasing the commissioners, the MGC voted 5-0 in favor of approving Encore Boston Harbor’s Category 1 sports betting application. Pending regulatory review of its operations, the WynnBet Sportsbook at Encore Boston Harbor could open for in-person betting as early as January. Online operations are expected later in 2023.