Many of the initial bets in the nascent Massachusetts sports betting industry are on the impending Super Bowl and the championship chances of the Bruins and Celtics.
EVERITT — An unusual casino crowd gathered on the floor of Encore Harbor Boston Tuesday morning when the WynnBet sportsbook opened, just as Massachusetts officially legalized live sports betting.
The 30 local bettors who won the random draw match were the first group to place sports bets at the newly installed kiosk bank. Many of the first bets are tied to the NFL’s iconic annual game, after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission revealed in October that it wanted to bring live betting online in time for the Super Bowl.
“I bet on the Super Bowl,” said Woburn resident Steve Leslie. “I bet Philly would win, give up the 2.5 spread, but that’s okay. I think they’re going to cover it up.”
Leslie was one of a random group of people who made their first sports bet at a casino.
“I bet. I’m not a crazy gambler, but I do take my time,” he explained. “I think it’s great to have this type of platform.”
Several notable former Boston athletes attended the festivities, including Johnny Damon, Cedric Maxwell, Sean Thornton, Matt Wright, Angela Ruggiero and Ty Lowe.
After announcing some of their bets — mainly small bets on the Super Bowl and local teams — Law made the statement.
“You’re all so petty,” he joked. “I’m going to buy the Celtics for $1,000 to win everything.”
Law also added that he is betting on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
For now, the in-person option at casinos in the state remains the only way to bet on sports. That will change in March when mobile betting is implemented in time for the NCAA college basketball tournament.
As Encore celebrates the opening of its sportsbook, is anyone concerned that bettors will disappear once they don’t have to physically visit a casino to place their bets?
“I think if you look at most markets, mobile gets about 80 percent of the revenue,” said Jenny Holaday, president of Encore. “Just because of the convenience, it makes a lot of sense.
“However, I will say, especially for this retail business, that Boston is a very welcoming and passionate sports town, and if you’re a sports fan, there’s nothing more fun and exciting than coming in and watching a Boston team That’s it. All your friends,” she added. “So I think the in-person sense of community is always going to be attractive and valuable in this market.”
Lesslie backed Holaday’s sentiment, noting that he can see value in the in-person and mobile experiences.
“I think mobility is great for people who can’t get out of their cars and don’t want to drive,” he said. “I think face-to-face works, and I think it will definitely benefit me because I’m on the street for 20 minutes, and I’m going to spend the day here.”
“I’ll probably do a little bit of both,” said Kelly Gillies of Wilmington, another first-time bettor. “I don’t really bet much on sports, but maybe I’ll play a few games here or there, like with the Bruins or the Celtics.”
The rollout of betting represents one of the final phases in the protracted legalization process.
Sports betting — specifically betting on the outcome of a single game — has been illegal in the United States for decades, with the exception of Nevada. Then in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in a 6-3 decision, clearing the way for state-level legalization.
Massachusetts allowed sports betting later than several of its neighboring states. The final bill to enable sports betting in the state is a process of last-minute deals at the end of the 2022 legislative session.
Also at the Encore meeting on Tuesday was Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano, who helped broker the deal.
“I thought we’d be here,” Mariano said of legalization. “I know it’s going to take longer than we’d like, but I know it’s a worthwhile effort and we can convince the majority of people to support it.”
“It’s an ongoing process,” Mariano continued, noting that drafting the wording of the bill took years. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Of course, Massachusetts has its own way of doing things.”
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