Massachusetts lawmakers looked like they’d be on the leading edge of legal sports betting — in New England, anyway — at the start of 2019. 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.
But at least one lawmaker now thinks sports betting has a great shot at legalization before the end of the 2020 session, and all those bills have been consolidated into a single vehicle. Operators were invited to give input, and HB 4559 could well make Massachusetts the next state to legalize.
Potential online and mobile sportsbook apps in MA
The answer is: DraftKings. The question, of course, is what mobile operator will be first in line for a sports betting license once Massachusetts does legalize? 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 (DKNG on NASDAQ) it’s an active sportsbook operator in other states including New Jersey and Indiana, and has had a voice in the legislative process in Massachusetts.
As far as other mobile platforms, well, it appears that 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 a baker’s dozen of options: the current bill would allow three skins (online brands) each for casinos, two for the state’s slot parlor, and five for stand-alone mobile platforms, meaning there could be a total of up to 13 mobile platforms.
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 it to be a player in the Bay State.
Here’s a look at some operators we think will make an effort to launch in Massachusetts:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- Circa Sports
- DraftKings Sportsbook
- FanDuel Sportsbook
- FOX Bet
- Penn National
- Rush Street/BetRivers
- William Hill
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 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 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 April 2020, DraftKings has expanded to include six digital markets, and will add a seventh on May 1, when it plans to go live in Colorado. 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 with a twist
In the latest bill, consumers will be able to wager on college sports, but only Division I college sports. The language in the bill, which bans betting on Division II, Division III, NAIA and other college sports that are not Division I, is a compromise that is better than many others. 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.
In Massachusetts, if HB 4559 becomes law, bettors can wager on any college team they want, including Boston College on the gridiron to Boston University in the Frozen Four.
A look at sports betting throughout New England
New England states have been — pun intended — 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.
At the start of 2020, Maine appeared to be the New England state that would most please operators. 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. Sports betting would have been legal at tribal venues, OTBs, casinos, and harness-racing tracks. But despite the backing of the legislature, Governor Janet Mills vetoed sports betting January 2020, becoming only the second governor to do so. The Senate overrode the veto, but the House did not, effectively killing sports betting in Maine until at least 2022. (Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed one of two sports betting bills and the legislature there failed to override, as well).
Across the rest of New England, there is active sports betting legislation in Connecticut, but state lawmakers, Governor Ned LaMont and the tribes that run the state’s two massive casinos remain at odds. In Vermont, lawmakers continue to consider a sports betting study bill.
If any New England state has a chance at legalizing before the end of 2020, it is Massachusetts.
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?
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?
Up to 13, according to a leading proposal.
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.
Details of the current Massachusetts sports betting bill
If HB 4559 becomes law, Massachusetts will have the most open, competitive marketplace in New England. Here’s a look at what’s in the bill as of April 24, 2020:
- Tax rates: 10% of gross gaming revenue for retail sports betting and 12% for mobile sports betting;
- Up to 13 mobile licenses: The state’s two full-service casinos will be awarded up to three mobile skins, the slot parlor in Plainfield will be awarded up to two, and five mobile-only licenses will be available;
- Online registration: Remote registration would be allowed;
- Retail locations: Up to three including the MGM Springfield, Encore Boston and the Plainridge Park Casino, a slots parlor and harness-racing track;
- College sports: As a workaround to banning college sports, the new bill would allow for betting only on Division I college sports, including on Massachusetts-based teams. The bill bans betting on Division II, III, NAIA, etc., college teams;
- Other restrictions: Betting on Olympic sports, amateur sports, eSports and fantasy sports is prohibited.
Fees on operators
- $500,000 application fee plus $500,000 initial license fee for full-service casinos for an S1 license. The license is good for five years, and includes three mobile skins;
- $500,000 application fee plus $500,000 initial license fee for slot parlors for an S2 license. The license is good for five years and includes two mobile skins;
- $500,000 application fee plus $500,000 initial license fee for stand-alone or “open” mobile platforms for an SM license. This license is good for five years;
- Horse tracks can apply for an SH license for $50,000 plus a $100,000 initial license fee to have retail operations only. The licensing fee is good for one year;