Legal sports betting was expected to arrive in 2020 in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the timeline. Now it may be more like late 2020 or 2021, when there ought to be more sports to bet on.
Work remains to be done to bring sports betting to the untapped Massachusetts market that includes one of the nation’s largest cities in Boston. “Beantown” has one of the country’s most rabid fan bases and teams with lengthy sports pedigrees in the Celtics (NBA), Red Sox (MLB), New England Patriots (NFL), and Bruins (NHL).
This page will review in detail the status of legal sports betting in Massachusetts, and what sports bettors in Mass can expect in the future.
Legal online sportsbooks in Massachusetts: Coming soon(ish)
Legislators made good progress on bills ahead of a Feb. 28, 2020, deadline, with an amendment to H366 that outlines tax rates and application fees in addition to banning certain types of sports bets. Those amendments helped elevate H4559 out of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, and it was referred to the House Ways and Means committee in March 2020.
In addition to dealing with the aftereffects from the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators are also working against a July 31, 2020, deadline — the end of the state’s legislative session — to get this or another bill to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.
The governor is a proponent of sports betting in Massachusetts and previously said he would like to see a bill on his desk by June. Also, DraftKings is headquartered in Boston and employs hundreds, adding to the political and business clout behind the legalization effort.
Getting started at legal online books in the Commonwealth
Once legalization does occur, regulations will need to follow. These are some of the restrictions that will almost certainly be in place.
Massachusetts is expected to maintain an age minimum of 21 to place bets on sporting events, which is also the current minimum age to place bets at casinos in the the state. The minimum age for placing bets on lottery, horse racing, and bingo is 18.
Physical location boundaries
Massachusetts is expected to use geolocation security technology similar to other states that have legalized sports betting at both physical retail locations and via online gaming markets. That means mobile devices and computers used to access and interact with sportsbooks have software that verifies a bettor is physically within the boundaries of the commonwealth.
The bettor does not need to be a resident of Massachusetts to place a wager, but simply be in Massachusetts at the time the wager is placed. This means a strong WiFi or cellular signal should provide a positive geolocation confirmation to place a wager, though attempting to place a wager too close to a state border has the potential to be an issue.
Beyond age and location requirements, most people prohibited from betting are individuals specified in the bill as not being allowed to place wagers. Additionally, the bill enables the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to ban people or have persons place themselves on a self-exclusion list. Such lists exist as a safety mechanism for individuals to protect themselves from their own gambling problems.
In terms of wagers placed, there are certain limitations below the professional sports level. Betting on college sports is restricted to Division I teams, while in-play betting on college athletes and wagers on amateur sports, eSports, and Olympic events are all prohibited.
One other notable restriction in H4559 is the ban on using credit cards to place bets.
Registering a MA sports betting account
With the proposed bill calling for “online-only operators,” which are sportsbooks with no physical presence, the expectation is Massachusetts will allow remote registration. That allows instant access to the sports betting markets through online registrations with both online-only operators and physical retail sportsbooks via associated online “skins” (brands).
For online accounts, bettors will likely need to provide their name and the last four digits of their Social Security number in addition to a home address and date of birth as a means of age verification.
Deposits and withdrawals
Once your account is created and active, the final requirement is to deposit some dough. Sportsbooks have established a wide set of options to allow players to access whatever method is most convenient to them, and Massachusetts is no exception.
This list of banking choices includes, but is not limited to:
- Checking (ACH)
- Online banking (using your online credentials with your bank)
- Digital payments by way of eWallet services such as PayPal
- Wire transfers
- Deposits at physical locations.
Credit card deposits may or may not work, based on the issuing bank, and in any case, will not be allowed for direct wagering purposes.
Before new customers make their initial deposits they should first familiarize themselves with the Welcome Bonus offers that are sure to be available. Matched bets, risk-free bets, matched deposits, and bonus money are all likely promotions that may be unlocked with a specific code at the time money is transferred. Usually, this is a one-time opportunity only for a first deposit.
The land-based casinos and future online sportsbooks
In the proposed law, both Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield can offer up to three online skins, while Plainridge Park Casino can offer two with its status as a slots parlor.
|Casino||Casino launch date||Expected sportsbook(s)|
|Encore Boston Harbor||June 23, 2019||Wynn|
|MGM Springfield||August 24, 2018||BetMGM|
|Plainridge Park Casino||March 17, 1999||Barstool Sportsbook, Penn National Interactive|
That’s potentially eight right there, and there may be just five (5) online-only operators permitted in the state. There will be many vying for the right to go online, including:
There are two off-track betting locations in Massachusetts — Suffolk Downs and Raynham Park. Of the two, Suffolk Downs appears better situated for sports betting thanks to a previous agreement with FanDuel to offer wagers on horse races through its mobile apps.
Types of wagers
The expectation is Massachusetts will offer a sports betting menu that consists of the standard options, including:
- Futures bets
- In-game betting
- Moneyline bets
- Spread bets
- Player prop bets
- Totals (over/under)
- Much more
Laws and regulations
The United States banned all sports wagering except for some small grandfathered markets in 1992 through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). In 2012, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill, and after a lengthy legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the act in a ruling on May 14, 2018.
While some states had already pieced together laws and regulations to quickly enter the sports betting market, Massachusetts took a more deliberate approach. In January 2019, three comprehensive bills — including one from Baker — were submitted along with two supporting bills. All three bills were mobile-friendly and did not require in-person registration and tabbed the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as the regulatory agency to oversee sports betting.
Baker’s initial bill did not include wagering on college sports, as did one submitted by state Sen. Brandon Crighton. Sen. Michael Rush’s offering allowed betting on college sports but also included an integrity fee to professional sports leagues of 0.25 percent per wager, calling it a “royalty.” Smith’s bill was also the lone one of the three to mandate the use of “official league data.”
Those three bills were later synthesized into H366 in the Economic Development and Technology Committee following May 2019 hearings and research covering other states’ betting laws. In February, an extension was granted until the end of that month, and legislators narrowly beat that deadline with an amendment that set up both tax rates and application fees.
The current frontrunner bill
The new bill, HB4559, establishes tax rates of 10% for gross revenue generated by retail sports betting and 12% for mobile sports betting. It also included four types of licenses: S1 for casinos, S2 for slot parlors, SM for stand-alone or mobile platforms, and SH for horse tracks. The S1, S2, and SM licenses each cost $1 million, split into a $500,000 application fee and $500,000 initial license fee, and are good for five years.
The S1 license allows casinos to have three online mobile skins, while the S2 license permits two mobile skins. The SM license is self-explanatory, while the SH license costs $50,000 for the application and $100,000 for the initial license fee. The SH license covers retail-only operations and must be renewed every year.
H4559 does not have any “integrity fees,” nor does it have a mandate for official league data.
History of gambling and betting in Massachusetts
Legal betting in Massachusetts dates back to 1934 with Wonderland Greyhound Park and Taunton Dog Track. The Raynham Greyhound track opened its doors seven years later, and by 1981, Taunton closed and combined operations with Raynham. The tracks, though, closed in 2009 when the commonwealth banned dog racing.
Horse racing was also legalized in 1934, but it was not until 1947 that harness racing began at Bay State Raceway, which later became known as Foxboro Raceway. Suffolk Downs also had harness racing from 1959 to 1970. Foxboro closed in 1997, and two years later Plainridge opened. Parimutuel betting continues at Plainridge and Suffolk Downs.
Lotteries have a lengthy history in the commonwealth, even predating the creation of the United States. When it was an English province in 1745, a public lottery was authorized to help pay for the Crown’s war, and similar lotteries were established until 1761, when they were banned by the Lords of Trade.
Lotteries resurfaced following the American Revolution until yet another ban was enacted in 1833. The Massachusetts General Court then established the current Lottery in 1971, with the first drawings held the following year.
Room for growth
There is a third license still available in Massachusetts for a casino to be located in the southeastern portion of the state, but the ongoing delays and potential competition from the planned Project First Light casino by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has left that spot unused. The Aquinnah Tribe announced plans to build a Class II gaming facility on its land near Martha’s Vineyard after getting a lawsuit filed by the commonwealth thrown out in 2018.
The inclusion of online-only sportsbook operators appears to be a boon for DraftKings, which has its national headquarters based in Boston. The online giant is a national dominant player in online sports betting and is the sole sportsbook for wagering in neighboring New Hampshire. With only five other online-only operator licenses available in total, there figures to be intense competition.