Back in 2019, Massachusetts lawmakers looked like they’d be on the leading edge of legal sports betting — in New England, anyway. Legislators and Governor Charlie Baker filed a total of a dozen sports betting bills, and Baker included a push for legalization in his state of the state address that year. The bills were all over the map, some with stand-alone mobile, one with an “integrity fee,” and all with different tax structures.
All those bills created a bottleneck, and caused the key committee that would handle sports betting to slow things down, and the 2019 session passed with no action. The 2020 session saw similar legalization efforts fizzle, and many observers wondered what it was going to take for the state legislators to actually pass any sort of sports betting bill.
The 2021 legislative session started the same way as previous years, with several sports betting bills introduced that covered every aspect of legalization efforts, from licensing fees to a prohibition on wagering on college sports to making it legal for 18 year-olds to wager. Interest in the issue was high, but the legislature once again was unable to line up a bill that could pass both the House and Senate.
This as neighboring states ramped up their legalization efforts, with legislative breakthroughs bringing mobile betting to New York and Connecticut by early 2022. New Hampshire and Rhode Island offer mobile betting and continue to attract thousands of Bay State bettors who cross the borders to place their bets. Vermont is now the only state bordering MA without legalized sports betting.
As 2021 wore on, legislators were off-and-on with sports betting. Progress appeared and then quickly washed away amongst disagreements and competing priorities. Nothing ever seemed to break through. Even in July, when good news emerged that the House had come together to pass a bill that ticked all the boxes and would bring mobile betting to the state, the Senate remained noncommittal. Similar to Ohio, legalization in Massachusetts seems to be so elusive that every state but Utah will have legal betting before the legislature finally passes a bill that everyone agrees on.
MA Sportsbook Alternatives: Over/Under Player Props
Potential online and mobile sportsbook apps in MA
Let’s assume sports betting does come to Massachusetts one day. Which operator will be there first? There is no doubt the answer is DraftKings. DraftKings is headquartered in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and already has a monopoly in digital sports betting in neighboring New Hampshire. Now a publicly traded company, it’s a top operator in practically every state with legal mobile sports betting. DraftKings and FanDuel are the clear market leaders, and it’s not even close.
As far as other mobile platforms, unlike in New Hampshire and Rhode Island, both of which run sports betting through their lotteries and offer consumers a single choice in terms of operators, Massachusetts may have many, many mobile options: the House-passed bill would allow three skins (online brands) each for the state’s three casinos along with one skin each for the state’s two horse racing facilities. That’s 11 potential operators right there, but the big news is that the bill also allows an unlimited number of sportsbooks to apply for licenses, and they don’t have to be affiliated with, or “tethered” to, a retail facility. We will get into the details of the House bill later on, but this is great news for bettors in MA.
While operators aren’t yet able to officially apply for a chance to operate in Massachusetts, several besides DraftKings have testified at hearings and have been invited to offer ideas, which seems to indicate that the field will be packed when sports betting is legal. MGM already has a casino in the western part of the state, and has been lobbying to be included in the mix in southern neighbor Connecticut, so expect BetMGM be a player in the Bay State. Additionally, Wynn has a large casino/hotel right outside Boston, so we expect WynnBET to go live in the state as soon as it is able to.
In addition to those mentioned above, here’s a look at some operators we think will make an effort to launch in Massachusetts:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- Bally Bet
- Circa Sports
- FOX Bet
- Rush Street/BetRivers
- theScore Bet
Potential land-based sportsbooks
Massachusetts has three land-based gaming venues – two full-service casinos and one slot parlor. MGM opened its sprawling Springfield complex in August 2018. The full-service casino was the first of its kind in Massachusetts. Springfield is located about a half-hour from the Connecticut border, which for many years dominated the New England casino landscape, with two full-service, Las Vegas-style tribal resort casinos dating to the 1980s. MGM Springfield already has a tap room-styled sports bar complete with bowling alleys, and will most certainly add a sportsbook to its casino as soon as possible.
About a year after MGM Springfield opened, Wynn Resorts opened its Encore Boston Harbor, located in Everett, Mass., about five miles from downtown Boston and fronting the harbor. The luxury resort has a high-end art collection, luxury retail shops and plenty of public amenities in addition to the casino floor. Like MGM Springfield, the Encore has a sports bar and will likely open a sportsbook book quickly after legislation is passed.
The oldest gaming venue in Massachusetts is the Plainridge Park Casino, a slot parlor that opened in 2015 and is operated by Penn National Gaming – which, due to its ownership of Barstool Sports, is a key player in the sports betting world. The slots parlor is part of a bigger venue that includes a harness-racing track, which has been in existence since 1999, but has had myriad legal issues. The venue is the only harness-racing facility in the state, and it offers simulcast wagering. A Barstool Sports-themed sportsbook would be a natural fit at this racino.
DraftKings and Massachusetts
The daily fantasy giant was started in almost the same way as Microsoft and Apple — in the garage of one of the owners. The principals in the company, Jason Robins, Matt Kalish and Paul Liberman, all worked together at VistaPrint before launching their business on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day in 2012. During its first six years of existence, DraftKings was strictly a daily fantasy company, but on Aug. 1, 2018, it entered the sports betting market when it took the first legal, digital sports bet in New Jersey.
Between 2018 and July 2021, DraftKings has expanded its online presence to 12 states, and is one of the top operators in all of them. On April 24, 2020, DraftKings went public, and is listed on the NASDAQ under the symbol DKNG.
Prior to going public, DraftKings had explored a merger with rival FanDuel in 2016, but the Federal Trade Commission blocked the plan, claiming it would give the pair a monopoly. The merger was called off in mid-2019. Fox Sports (now Disney), the Kraft Group (owners of the New England Patriots) and Wellington Management (financial firm) each have a stake in DraftKings. The company also has partnerships or agreements with Caesars Entertainment (now part of Eldorado Resorts), Penn National as well as other gaming and hospitality interests.
DraftKings has always had its headquarters in Boston, and in 2019, moved into new offices in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood. The 105,000-square-foot space is the largest single-floor space in Boston.
Betting on college sports in MA
In the latest bill, consumers will be able to wager on college sports, including games played in MA, but no player props, so you can’t bet on whether a Boston College WR will catch 2 or more TDs in a game. States across the country have been “carving out” college sports, and in places like Indiana and Iowa, that means no prop bets on college sports and in Illinois, Washington, Delaware and other states, that means no betting on local college teams. In Oregon, there is no betting on college sports at all.
A look at sports betting throughout New England
New England states have been all over the map with how they are addressing sports wagering. Rhode Island was among the first states out of the blocks in terms of legalizing and going live with its Lottery-run platforms. Governor Gina Raimondo signed sports betting into law in June 2018 and the state took its first bet before the end of the year. It had a regional monopoly (on the legal market) until December 2019 when DraftKings launched its mobile platform in New Hampshire. Though both states offer patrons a chance to bet online from anywhere in the state, there is no competition. There is a single commercial operator — DraftKings in New Hampshire and IGT in Rhode Island — offering odds. And in both jurisdictions, sports wagering is offered through the state lottery.
From 2019 to 2021, Maine appeared to be the New England state that would most please operators. In 2019, the legislature passed an open, competitive sports betting bill that would have allowed for stand-alone mobile platforms and up to 11 retail sports betting licenses. But despite the backing of the legislature, Governor Janet Mills vetoed sports betting January 2020, becoming only the second governor to do so. In 2021, the legislature tried again, introducing similar legislation that did not require tethering and would have brought mobile betting to the state.
Unfortunately, during floor consideration of the bill, a tethering requirement was attached, much to the dismay of the bill sponsor, who actually tried to kill his own bill. It passed the House, but was not considered by the Senate prior to adjournment. Yet another step in the messy path Maine has taken toward legalized sports betting.
This stands in contrast to Connecticut and New York, two states that had similar contentious disagreements about legalized sport betting. Unlike Maine, the Nutmeg and Empire States saw how much state revenue they were leaving on the table and came to an agreement to legalize mobile betting, which will go live in both states sometime in early 2022. In Vermont, lawmakers continue to consider a sports betting study bill.
While no announcements have been made yet, it’s safe to assume sportsbooks will utilize most or all of the same banking options in Massachusetts as in other states. These include the following, though not all sportsbooks utilize all of these options.
- Online bank transfer
- Site-specific prepaid debit cards
- Cash at the casino cages
- Paper check
Frequently asked questions
Is legal sports betting live in Massachusetts?
Not yet. We remain hopeful that it will be legalized sometime soon.
Who will eventually be able to place real-money sports bets in Massachusetts?
Those over the age of 21 and not affiliated with a professional or college team or sport will be able to place bets.
How many online sportsbooks will be available in Massachusetts?
Under the current proposal, an unlimited number will be able to apply for a license. However, we expect 12-15 to be live in the state within the first year of mobile betting.
Where will I bet able to place sports bets in person?
If the current bill passes, it’s likely that both of the state’s full-service casinos in Springfield and Boston, and the slot parlor/racino in Plainville will all open sportsbooks.
Will in-person registration be required?
Not under the current bill.
What bet types and betting markets will be available?
Bettors will be able to wager on Division I college, professional and Olympic sports along with overseas professional sports like European soccer and cricket.
Details of the current Massachusetts sports betting bill
If HB 3993 becomes law, Massachusetts will have the most open, competitive marketplace in New England. Here’s a look at what’s in the measure, which passed the state House on July 22, 2021 by a vote of 156-3:
- Tax rates: 12.5% for retail bets; 15% for mobile bets.
- Fees on operators: $100,000 application fee and $5 million license fee.
- Number of licenses: The state’s two full-service casinos and the slot parlor in Plainfield will be awarded up to three mobile skins each, while an unlimited number of operators can apply for a mobile license.
- Online registration: Remote registration would be allowed.
- Retail locations: MGM Springfield, Encore Boston and the Plainridge Park Casino would have retail sportsbooks. The state’s two horse racing facilities also qualify for a retail location.
- College sports: Betting on college sports is permitted, including teams in the state, but no prop bets on college games are allowed.
- Other restrictions: None. eSports wagering is also allowed under the bill.