After years of debate and weeks of regulatory wrangling, legal sports betting officially arrived in Massachusetts — at least in part — at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Three of the state’s casinos — Encore Boston Harbor in Everett, Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville and MGM Springfield — will open their sportsbooks and begin accepting wagers, while the state gaming commission continues to push for a March-only launch. Sports betting limited to mobile devices.
It’s the biggest change to the gambling landscape in Massachusetts since the 2011 law first authorized casinos to open, and it’s a day eagerly awaited by sports fans and elected officials pushing to legalize betting on sporting events.
Here are four things to know when sports betting starts in Massachusetts.
Legal gambling starts with a lot of fanfare and celebrities.
Each of the three casinos marked the start of sports betting with their own special events, all featuring athletes with Massachusetts ties. Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque will be in attendance at MGM Springfield’s first bet, and former New England Patriots Rob Ninkovich will join in the festivities at the Plainridge Park Casino. Encore Boston Harbor’s morning roster features many athletes — ex-Bruin Shawn Thornton, ex-Patriots Ty Law and Matt Light, ex-Boston Celtics Cedric Maxwell and Eddie House, ex-Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon and hockey player Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Olympian.
Gaming Commission members visited all three sportsbooks on Monday, touring the facilities and testing their ability to accept bets.
It’s not just the main sport.
Regulators are eyeing the Feb. 12 Super Bowl and March Madness college basketball championships when picking launch dates, but sports betting in Massachusetts will go far beyond football and basketball. As well as baseball, hockey, golf and football and every other sport you can think of, the Gambling Commission-approved catalog of events and wagers covers everything from Australian Rules football to volleyball. There’s also floorball, handball, bowling, lacrosse, pool, rodeo, sailing, beach soccer and special events like the Oscars, Emmys and Nathan’s famous hot dog eating contest.
Bets are prohibited on any sport or sporting event supervised by the governing body in Russia or Belarus and on matches where the final result is primarily based on the evaluation of the judges. People under the age of 21 cannot legally wager in Massachusetts or use a credit card to wager.
Bets on college sports are allowed, with a caveat. Generally, betting on teams from Massachusetts schools is not allowed unless the local team is playing in a tournament like March Madness.
It’s been a long road to get here.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts have discussed the possibility of legalizing sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban in 2018, but it took years to finally pass a bill. The state legislature approved sports betting legislation on three separate occasions, and the Senate did not join until April 2022. The two branches reconciled their differences at an overnight meeting last summer, and former Gov. Charlie Baker signed the state’s sports betting bill into law Aug. 10.
Sports betting began about seven years after Plainridge Park opened as the state’s first casino and more than 50 years after the state’s lottery launched. As the legalization bill lingers in the House, its supporters say the lag has not stopped Bay Staters from placing bets, but has driven them — and the associated revenue — away from the black market or already in states such as New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. With Tuesday’s betting, Massachusetts will join 32 other states and Washington, D.C., with live legal sports betting markets, according to the American Gaming Association.
It’s a highly regulated and lucrative business.
The state will tax the revenue collected by casinos and other gaming operators — 15 percent for live betting and 20 percent for mobile betting. Lawmakers estimate that sports betting will bring in $60 million in annual tax revenue for the state. On top of that, they project an initial licensing fee of up to $80 million, which needs to be renewed every five years.
The sports betting law itself is just one of many rules. The Gaming Commission has been working on more than 200 sets of regulations, and each casino has its own house rules, maximum and minimum bet levels, hours of operation and other policies. After visiting MGM Springfield’s sportsbook for a trial run on Monday, Gaming Commissioner Brad Hill said sports betting rules are readily available at betting booths there and responsible gaming information – designed to help avoid Problem Gambling – Widely demonstrated.
Last week, the commission rolled out a voluntary self-exclusion list for sports betting, where individuals who wish to limit their gambling can ask the Gaming Commission to temporarily or permanently ban them from sports betting and mobile betting apps. The commission continues to offer casinos the same option for gambling.